Front row, left: Seth Harrison, Wyatt James, Hunter Fields and Jacob Dobson. 2nd row: Chadd Keltz, Dustin Nees and Jamie Michael. 3rd row: Cory Villanueva, Jacob Floyd and Kalie Shaffer. Back row: James Hendrickson, Steven Harrington, Cooper Smith, Jack Willoughby, Haleigh Navel, Emily Wright and Samantha Tillotson.
Second Lt. Clay Whitman is somewhere in Iraq. His specific location is classified so his family can only guess where he is exactly. His mother, Paula Whitman and grandma, Mary Nell McDonough, of Brazil, and his dad, Donnie Whitman from Vigo County, worry about his safety and morale.
Frequent contact with Clay through e-mail and phone helps to ease their stress. And the support of the community aids in tolerating their constant concern.
Some of Clay's biggest supporters are the children at Jackson Twp. School, where he went to elementary school. The 1998 Northview High School graduate is a hero to the Jackson Twp. youngsters.
A 2002 Indiana State University graduate, Clay was in ROTC and became active in the U.S. Army right out of college. A member of the 659th Maintenance Co. from Fort Bragg, N.C., the 25-year-old is in charge of a 70-person crew which does maintenance on all types of military vehicles in Iraq.
Clay told his mother that some of the soldiers have no family and get little or no mail from home. Saddened by that information, Paula asked the teachers if Jackson Twp. students would send letters to the troops.
They did more than that. In honor of Clay the patriotic youngsters not only wrote letters, they also donated supplies to be sent to the soldiers for Christmas.
They gathered enough personal items, candy, books and gum to fill 28 boxes. The Christmas packages, each containing a letter from one of the children, are in Fort Bragg and will be mailed to Iraq this week.
"This community really did a good job," Paula said. "There was also a church and some individuals involved. I send my son packages all the time. But there's a lot of soldiers who never hear from anybody. Clay is proud of everyone at Jackson Twp. When he gets home, he said he's going to go to the school and thank the kids personally. It meant a lot to him."