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Writing to soldier turns into a strong friendship

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

(Photo)
At a welcome home party at Greencastle's Robe Ann Park on Oct. 7, Staff Sgt. Jason Dean poses with his pen pal Tiffany Gillie, 12, Knightsville. Gillie is holding the plaque awarded to her by Dean's battalion for her faithful support in writing to Dean and his fellow troops during the past year and a flag. Courtesy photo.
What started out as an English class project - to write a letter to a soldier stationed in Iraq - turned into a friendship for North Clay Middle School student Tiffany Gillie.

"I like to learn about things, so I wanted to learn what it was like to be a soldier," Gillie said about choosing from a list of soldiers' names provided by her teacher Anna Long. "I chose to write to Staff Sgt. Jason Dean from Quincy, Ind."

The class mailed their letters in November 2006, but Tiffany was the only student who continued to write after all the others stopped.

Tiffany sent her picture to Jason, who sent Tiffany a picture of his family. She shared what was going on in her life, while he shared what he could about being a soldier in Iraq.

Dean encouraged her to not let anyone stop her from achieving her dreams.

"He wrote that at the end of every letter he sent to me," Gillie said.

Tiffany's parents, Bill and Mary Ann Gillie, also got involved.

"We e-mailed each other whenever we could," Mary Ann said. "Our families really got to know each other during the year. We even shared recipes over the internet."

As the end of Dean's tour of duty drew near, he began e-mailing Tiffany everyday. When Dean returned to the United States on September 15, his wife invited Tiffany and her family to a surprise welcome home party at Robe Ann Park in Greencastle on Oct. 7.

It turned out to be a day of surprises for both Dean and Tiffany.

"He didn't know I was going to be there," Gillie said. "I was so excited to meet Jason and his family."

Dean, who planned to meet his pen pal some day, also had a surprise for Tiffany.

He presented Tiffany with a plaque on behalf of the men and women of his battalion for all her letters.

The plaque reads; On behalf of the United State Armed Forces of America, for your outstanding support of the men and women of Operation Iraqi Freedom during the 2006-2007, this plaque is awarded to Tiffany Gillie for her outstanding support for those who risk their lives to keep the greatest nation, we call America, free.

Mary Ann said "the whole battalion got to know Tiffany during the year."

According to Mary Ann, Dean explained that the soldiers were impressed with Tiffany's dedication because all the other students stopped writing after one letter. Tiffany was the only student to write to her soldier until he returned home.

"Jason told me how when he was feeling down and came in from the field, Tiffany's e-mails or letters would cheer him up," Mary Ann said. "One time, Jason told me that many of the soldiers even got up and left watching an Indianapolis Colts' football game to read a letter she sent."

Another surprise came from Dean's father, who made a display case for an American Flag for Tiffany's room.

"Jason's family was so nice to me," Gillie said.

Dean is on vacation with his family, trying to unwind after so long in Iraq. But, he still keeps in touch with Tiffany and her family.



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