Mail motivates Army specialist to return to his roots in Melissa Timms Forest Grove classroom
Once in awhile, theres something about a student that really sticks with a teacher well beyond the year the student was in class.
For Melissa Timm, that student was Joey Flanery.
Fifteen years ago Flanery was in third grade and Timm was fresh out of college, a first-year teacher at Joseph Gale Elementary School.
Joseph Gale is a shiny new two-story building now. Timm is a fifth-grade teacher at Tom McCall Upper Elementary School.
And Joey Flanery is Spc. Joe Flanery of the U.S. Army, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st and 10th field artillery battalions based in Fort Benning, Ga.
He impressed me, Timm recalls of the third-grade Joey. The thing that really impressed me was how kind he was.
Joey would sit out of P.E., even though he was one of the most athletic kids in class, to keep his friend with physical disabilities company, Timm noted.
Last September, just after school started, Timm and her students wrote letters to active-duty soldiers overseas. Some of those letters went to Flanery, who was deployed to Kuwait at the time. Timms students knew that letters from home mean a lot to service members on assignment out of the country, but they didnt know just how much until last week.
Flanery, back home in Forest Grove on leave, paid a visit to Timm and her students.
Your letters arrived two days before my birthday and it was a time when I really needed them, Flanery told the class. I read every single one of them when I got them.
Then Flanery went about the business of answering questions about his deployment to Kuwait: questions from the minds of fifth-graders.
Were there snakes? Spiders? Camels? How hot did it get? What did he eat? What did he do in his free time?
Flanery answered every question in turn as a slide show of his time in Kuwait played on a screen behind him.
Sand, snakes and spiders
Yes, there were snakes and spiders and scorpions, too. There was sand as far as the eye could see. No hills. Just sand, sky and herds of camels roaming the desert. It could get as hot as 135 degrees, then cool into the 90s at night.
On the other hand, Flanery could eat at Taco Bell, Burger King and use the Internet, make cell phone calls home and play video games in his free time.
Flanery, 23, spent eight months in Kuwait as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Before joining the army, he attended Linfield College in McMinnville for a year, where he played football. He was also slated to play baseball for the Wildcats, but suffered a back injury just before the season started.
The following year he attended Clackamas Community College for a semester before deciding to join the army.
I had three goals, Flanery told Timms class. Pay for school, save money to continue school and serve and help in a war that started when I was about your age.
I think its the most honorable way to make a living. I should do it if I can help.
Flanery also offered some advice to his rapt audience. College costs a lot of money, but if youre smart you can find ways to manage it, he told the children. By joining the Army and saving money from his paychecks, his previous college debts are paid off. When he finishes his service in September, the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs offers a program to assist in paying for college.
Flanery plans to finish his degree at exercise and sports science, probably at Portland State University, he said.
And a few more words of wisdom from the young man his teacher nicknamed Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo:
Real life is not like video games, he told the students. Do not base your view of war on Call of Duty. My job is nothing like that.
Flanery said he was happy to come back and speak with Timms students. If I was on their end of it, it would mean a lot to me.
Once again, said Timm, Joeys kind, caring attitude shined through.
Youre going to do good things, she told Flanery. You already have.