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Middle school students get living lesson on war

Saluda Trail Middle School seventh-graders Casey Long, left, Elicia Truesdale and Mikala Gladden talk to Army Spc. Blake Center during a reception for him Wednesday. Center, who spoke to and e-mailed the class from Afghanistan, talked to the students about his service.
Saluda Trail Middle School seventh-graders Casey Long, left, Elicia Truesdale and Mikala Gladden talk to Army Spc. Blake Center during a reception for him Wednesday. Center, who spoke to and e-mailed the class from Afghanistan, talked to the students about his service.

One after the other, hands shot up in the air at Saluda Trail Middle School on Wednesday as seventh-grade students got the chance to ask a soldier about his time serving in Afghanistan.

But he wasn't just any soldier. He was a soldier whom students have e-mailed and spoken to on the phone, but never seen in person. It was a face to put with a voice.

Students in Jim Koterba's seventh-grade social studies classes have been talking to Army Spc. Blake Center, a Fort Mill High School graduate, on speaker phone during class, and some students have e-mailed him from home.

Center, 22, has been serving in Afghanistan since May. His job involves teaching and mentoring the Afghan National Police.

The husband of one of Koterba's co-workers linked him up with Center, who sometimes will call during class or send e-mails that Koterba shares with the students.

"I think the cool thing is that we talk about things in class all the time, but to actually be a part of something, even if it's on a small scale, we're kind of connected into what's going on over there," Koterba said.

Center visited Saluda Trail while on a two-week leave. A few days before Christmas, he will head back overseas.

Students wanted to know how often he eats, what kind of weapons he uses and a wealth of things about what schools are like in Afghanistan.

Center explained to the students that many schools have been closed or burned down and that girls are not usually allowed to go to school. They take their longest break from school in the winter, not the summer, because of the cold winter climate, he said.

Meeting Center was exciting for students.

Twelve-year-old Michal Faulk has e-mailed Center on her own.

"I just thought it'd be a great experience for me to talk to somebody who's a hero," she said.

Michal said it was a little weird at first to see Center face to face but she was glad she was able to have the experience.

Twelve-year-old Jaelyn Fossett said talking to Center has been cool because it's not like anything else her classes have done.

"We're really excited cause we met someone who's fighting for us," she said.

"We're worried that he might get hurt, but when we see him in pictures and stuff, we're happy."

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