By Johnny Jackson
U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Pope, a 20-year-old native of Griffin, spoke briefly to the students at Dutchtown Elementary School on Friday.
"Thank you for supporting our troops," said Pope, an invited guest and a member of the 171st Aviation Battalion at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.
Pope, who is preparing for a deployment to Iraq next summer, presented the Dutchtown student body with three framed American flags - authentic, certified flags flown in duty overseas.
The three flags were donated to the Henry County school last month by U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Antonio Serrano, who has two children at the school, Antonio, Jr., 7, and Desirae, 6.
Serrano, a 30-year military veteran, has been serving a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan that began in May. He said he decided to donate the flags to the school in an effort to promote a sense of patriotism among its students.
"It stands for strength, determination, pride, valor and respect," he said in a telephone interview. "Kids need to know that freedom is not free. [They] also need to know that the U.S. Army does much more than just fight and that the military has proudly served in humanitarian missions in the United States and around the world."
Serrano said young children often do not understand the sacrifices made by military families, but come to learn the value of serving in the U.S. armed forces.
"During my last deployment my little princess, Desirae, was only 3 months, and my little helper, Antonio, was 2 years old," Serrano said. "Deployments are a rough time for all.
"We should not only wait for Veterans Day to thank past and present military members, but every day," he added. "I tell my kids that the only reason we are out here 'having fun' is because the military is on guard duty, all around the world."
Sgt. Maj. Serrano has been one of the more active parents at the school when he is not serving overseas, said Lakeisha Bolling, a teacher at Dutchtown.
"It was so nice to have these flags dedicated to the school, not only in honor of the school, but in his honor," Bolling said.
The school celebrated the soldier and his fellow military personnel in a flag-unveiling ceremony on Friday, a part of activities to commemorate Patriot Day.
"We think it's poignant that on this day, 9/11, we remember that men and women across the globe are giving their last full measure of devotion to our country," said teacher, April Taylor, one of the organizers of Friday's assembly.
Organizers were able to surprise Serrano's children, announcing to the fatigue-wearing youths that their father had sent the school a gift of patriotism.
"I think he's trying to save the world so that it can be a safer place," Antonio Serrano, Jr., said of his father.