Staff Photo: Keith Farner
Caleb Pruitt, left, talks with Atlanta Falcons player Travian Robertson on Wednesday at Roberts Elementary. Pruitt and 34 other fifth grade students got help from the Falcons’ Rookie Club to write letters to soldiers overseas.
SUWANEE -- Anxiousness and excitement filled the room on Wednesday as fifth-grade students at Roberts Elementary gathered around tables with paper, glitter, glue bottles, markers, stickers and prepared for a surprise.
They knew something exciting was about to happen when television cameras, Principal Dion Jones and teachers taking pictures for the school's yearbook descended on the classroom. But teachers and administrators kept the event a secret.
So when 13 Atlanta Falcons players walked in the room wearing red jerseys, the kids raised their arms, clapped their hands and otherwise were in awe of the seemingly giant men sitting down next to them at the tables.
Then several members of the Army, most who had been stationed overseas, came in the room and shared stories of how letters from students boosted morale for soldiers away from home.
The event was put on by a partnership with the American Red Cross and the Falcons' Rookie Club, and members of the Falcons and the Army sat down with the students and helped them write letters that the Red Cross will send to all members of the military.
Teddy Gribbins, a First Sergeant in the Georgia Army National Guard, said he was stationed in 2009 and 2010 along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and saw first hand that morale was noticeably higher when letters from students arrived.
"Getting letters from kids just brightened their day," Gribbins said. "It's good to do this when you get a chance."
Along with Gribbins, the other members of the Army told the students to be creative when writing and decorating the letters. And if possible, the soldiers try to write back.
"The ability to send cards to people who are certainly deserving," said Ruben Brown, media relations specialist with the Red Cross. "This gives them a taste of home."
Brown said the Red Cross holds events like these at malls, sports facilities and other public venues where community members are invited. Brown said thousands of letters are sent each year.
Jones said he was excited to have the school participate in an event like this because it helps students relate to something halfway around the world.
"It brings it home to the kids," Jones said. "They see it on TV, but to write a letter, it hits home that people are sacificing for our country."
Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi wrote a letter himself to the soldiers, and was proud to share that students at his table worked together to brainstorm ideas of what to write. Massaquoi called it fulfilling to put a smile on a kid's face.
"We get seen every day in public, and we have to show that we're role models," said Massaquoi, who said with a laugh that he enjoyed the event of cutting and pasting, and it was better than his memories of school.
Falcons fullback Bradie Ewing also participated in the event, and called it rewarding.
"I truly believe the armed forces should be the true heroes of the country," Ewing said.