When Sierra York penned a letter as part of a class assignment, she did not know the name of the recipient. It was addressed to an unknown soldier serving in Baghdad, Iraq.
Sierra was in Teresa Nachtigall's sixth grade class at Morgan Mill School during the 2009-10 school year. Like other classes in the small Erath County school district, Nachtigall sent letters to soldiers with hopes they would make their way to the desert land and American troops in time for Veteran's Day 2009.
That mission was accomplished when it reached Air Force Capt. JoAnne L. Finan.
"Sometimes I felt like we were forgotten," Finan said Thursday. "Then I got that letter two weeks before my birthday, on Veteran's Day. I knew then that people back home did remember us and where we were."
But what did the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl from deep in the heart of Texas have to share with a soldier she had never met?
Unlike other letters Fanin received, Sierra spoke of her life at home in Erath County. She told Fanin that she was from Morgan Mill and loved cats and horses.
"It was like she was saying, 'This is me. Will you be my friend?'" Fanin recalled, adding that she hung the letter on her office wall, and it remained above her work station until she returned to domestic soil in May 2010.
Following her return, Finan attempted to make her way to Morgan Mill to meet Sierra, but the end of the school year delayed the visit. Finan rescheduled the visit for Thursday and Sierra, who has since moved from Morgan Mill to Port Lavaca, made her way back home for their meeting.
And as it always is when a soldier steps on Morgan Mill soil, an event was organized, but this time it was not to pay homage to a hero. Finan presented Sierra with a treasure trove of momentos from Iraq including an honorary flag that flew above the camp where she served. Old Glory was folded neatly, encased in wood and glass and inscribed with the following: Sierra York, Thanks for remembering us. Operation Iraqi Freedom 11 November 2009, Captain JoAnne L. Finan, USAF.
A similar flag was presented to Superintendent Dean Edwards and the entire district for their continued recognition of the nation's armed forces.
Finan addressed Morgan Mill's student body during an assembly, and explained to the kindergarten - eighth grade students her role in Iraq and offered insight on the native people.
Finan served in a detaining operation as the head accountant, or comptroller, directly responsible for millions of American dollars.
She told the students that she and her fellow soldiers were responsible for "caring for the bad guys," who were color-coded depending upon the threat they posed. The green guys were the best while red signaled an extreme threat. By the time she was ready to return to the United States, Finan said all of the remaining detainees were coded red.
Finan said their mission was to not simply serve as temporary prison guards, preparing the inmates for transfer to an Iraqi prison. They were caregivers and teachers. She told the students that some of the detainees did not know how to read, and once they were taught, a lifetime of lies began to unravel.
"A lot were surprised to learn what was in their Bible - the Koran - was not what they had been told," she said.
She also explained that many of the detainees lived a terroristic life for one simple reason - a means to support their families. The could make $500 to bury a bomb. Fanin said the American military taught the detainees skills that would allow them to be more peaceful and productive.
Fanin also told them a story of one detainee, "a higher-up." After time at the camp under the watchful eye and direction of U.S. forces, he had reconsidered his view of America. The detainee said he wanted to write letters to the President of the United States and to congressmen in regards to the "great care" he had received.
"He said he would never commit acts against the United States again," she said. "Things are really changing for those people. I think Iraq is going to be okay."
While Fanin had a lot to share, she said the most important message she came to deliver to the students was a simple "thanks."
"Thank you for remembering us," Fanin said. "Your support means everything, whether you agree with why we are over there or not."