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thedrifter
03-16-07, 08:04 PM
Friday, March 16, 2007
Students send Marines off with food, gifts
Montessori pupils adopt 1,000-man battalion headed to Iraq.
By ERIKA I. RITCHIE
The Orange County Register

When the alarm rang at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, Hannah Huebscher could barely get up. But five minutes later, the groggy-eyed 14-year-old remembered her mission.

Since Monday, Hannah and others from Rancho Viejo Montessori in Rancho Santa Margarita have gone to Camp Pendleton to see off groups from the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion bound for Iraq.

Each morning – amid emotional farewells – they parked their RV between barracks and set up tables with coffee and doughnuts. As Marines left loved ones and fell into formation to hear a last speech before deployment, students scampered aboard waiting buses and put surprise lunch bags on each seat.

For two weeks Hannah worked with Debbie Warkentien, the school's principal, to prepare the adopted battalion's farewell. At lunch, after school and on weekends she helped pack sandwiches, cookies, juice boxes, crackers, fruit and a letter of appreciation in each of the lunch sacks. She collected letters of support for the Marines from local schools.

Students gathered toys for the Marines to pass out to Iraqi children. Parents donated almost $3,000 in toys, food and other items, and one mom donated 1,000 meat sandwiches.

The project – started as a way to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award – turned into a passion. By the time she finishes today, she'll have logged double the required community service hours for her badge.

"I don't feel I should stop in the middle of the project," Hannah said. "When the Marines leave some seem sad, some try to be excited but then they get nervous. They're brave for what they're doing and I'm sad to see them go – not knowing if they'll come back. But it's good to know there are people helping the rest of the world and not just thinking of themselves."

The Montessori decided to adopt the 1,000-man battalion after a visit from Sgt. Stephen Ferguson, who started "Team Cody" – an outreach ministry helping Marines in need.

For more than three years, Ferguson, who left Monday for his second Iraq tour, has spoken to city officials, businesses and schools on behalf of the Marines. With his mother, Jackie, he's visited wounded Marines, helped reunite families over the holidays, organized care packages for Marines serving overseas and worked on city adoptions.

First Sgt. Octaviano Gallegos oversaw Ferguson.

"You've got one Marine taking his own time to reach out to the community," said Gallegos. "It shows the civilian community that Marines do good things and are held to a high standard. I don't see how he has the time to do it."

Ferguson, 25 – involved in outreach ministry since fifth grade – created "Team Cody" in memory of Cody Johnson, an 11-year-old Texas boy who died of cancer.

"He was inspired by Cody's courage," said Jackie Ferguson. "He compared it to a Marine going to war facing death."

When the Montessori learned Ferguson's battalion wasn't adopted, the school family opened their hearts.

The battalion is headed for Rawah – a small town on the Euphrates River. There, they will fight insurgents and maintain order with foot and vehicle patrols.

Sgt. Joseph Heredia, 25, who drives Humvees and seven-ton trucks, was going to Iraq for the first time.

"You wouldn't find a lot of people doing this," he said as he drank coffee. "I remember being a little kid seeing soldiers and knew it was something I wanted to do. Maybe these young kids will want to do the same, and if not, maybe they'll appreciate what we're doing and remember it for life."

Dy Ann Parham and her son, Logan, 6, came out two mornings this week. Logan donated some of his bouncy balls as gifts for Iraqi kids.

"It's pretty cool because we can talk to the Marines and they help with freedom," said Logan, who wore a camouflage hat to blend in. "I think the children will like bouncy balls because they're just like me."

Ellie