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Navy pen pal: 'We're very thankful'

Above Navy Diver Mike Woods visits with Toni Schlaire’s kindergarten class at Oakwood Elementary on Nov. 18. Photos provided. (click for larger version)
November 24, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- The kindergarteners in Toni's Schlaire's classroom had a visitor that traveled for five days to meet them recently.

Mike Woods, a Navy diver senior chief who has been deployed to Afghanistan since June, came home to Michigan on two week-leave and stopped in at Oakwood Elementary Nov. 18.

"I haven't been around a group of kids that young or large, so I was kind of anxious, but they were all smiling and waiting on pins and needles to ask questions," said Woods. "The questions were great. They asked if I like doughnuts or sour candy, they asked if I was fighting the bad guys. I told them we're over there trying to make Afghanistan a better place for the people who live there, and I work in an office 12 hours a day."

Although a 17-year veteran of the Navy, Woods is currently deployed with the Marine Corps. He was cross-trained to work with the Marines and is performing administrative duties. He and a fellow Navy diver volunteered to fill in where they could help out, knowing they wouldn't be diving. Woods hasn't had any interaction with the Afghanis and in fact doesn't leave base in the Herat Province. He will return to Afghanistan this week and stay there until March, when his deployment ends and he returns to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

While over there, however, he enjoys corresponding with the Oakwood kindergarteners.

Schlaire learned about Woods through an acquaintance. She wanted her class to "adopt" a military member this school year to show support for the troops, and also as an educational experience for the kids. They've sent him care packages with letters, pictures they drew, and some of Woods' favorite things from home, like Better Made red-hot potato chips, hot Cheetos, instant oatmeal, sunflower seeds and Tootsie pops. He sends them letters back.

"I wanted a reaching out activity to get the kids involved in supporting the troops," said Schlaire. "I wanted to shine a light on what they are doing over there because there's a lot of misunderstanding... I've never done anything like this before, the whole experience has been inspirational."

Woods is enjoying the communication with the class, too.

"We don't have a lot of contact or communication from people back home, it's nice to know they're thinking of us," he said. "I share with the other guys and we're all really grateful. Those red hot Better Made chips, everybody's a big fan and we go through them pretty quick. We're very thankful for all the letters and pictures. We save the letters and pictures and it gives us something to look at and keeps everyone's spirits up."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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