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Afghanistan veteran visits, thanks Friday Harbor Elementary School students

Top photo, Desilee English introduces Army Sgt. Tom Bauschke to second-graders at Friday Harbor Elementary School. Bottom photo, Bauschke answers students
Top photo, Desilee English introduces Army Sgt. Tom Bauschke to second-graders at Friday Harbor Elementary School. Bottom photo, Bauschke answers students' questions.
— image credit: Richard Walker

Army Sgt. Tom Bauschke visited Friday Harbor Elementary School Tuesday to thank second-graders for the letters they sent to him and his unit while they were stationed in Afghanistan.

"We really liked the letters you sent," he said. "It didn't happen too much. We mostly received e-mails, so your letters meant a lot to us."

Bauschke, 44, served in the Army Signal Corps in what was then West Germany from 1985-88. He was a house painter and vice commander of the Friday Harbor American Legion post when, in 2007, he reenlisted in the Army as a medic – 19 years after his first enlistment ended.

He answered questions about why he joined the Army: "To help people and make sure all the soldiers come home," he said. "There were so many young men and women over there, I wanted to make sure they made it home OK."

And he also answered questions about what life is like in Afghanistan.

As a medic, he provided medical care for a lot of Afghan people: "I treated a lot of kids, a lot of grandpas, and sometimes a donkey," he said, eliciting laughter. "Most of the people I treated were locals."

A lot of children's cold medicine was sent from Friday Harbor, he said.

Children learned that when it's day here, it's night in Afghanistan; that it takes 20 hours to get there by airplane; that the Army is hard work and you don't get too much sleep and sometimes people yell because things have to be done right away.

Children learned that we're in Afghanistan because some planes crashed into buildings on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001, before these children were born. The people who orchestrated those attacks are in Afghanistan. "Because of what we're doing there, we're safe at home," Bauschke said.

And children learned that some soldiers get hurt — Bauschke was hit by shrapnel May 1 and received the Purple Heart — and some don't come home. One child told of his great-uncle who sacrificed himself and died in the Vietnam War. Another child told of an uncle who is "in the war" now.

Despite the risks, Bauschke said he likes his job because he likes helping people. And on Feb. 11, he'll climb 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise awareness of, and money for, the

Wounded Warrior Project. The climb is 68 miles. All proceeds from his climb will go to the Wounded Warrior Project.

The Wounded Warrior Project provides clothing, phone cards and toiletries for wounded military personnel in military hospitals across the U.S. and overseas. Most of these military personnel have permanently debilitating injuries.

The Wounded Warrior Project subsidizes airfare, daycare, food, housing and ground transportation so families can visit injured service members. The Wounded Warrior Project also offers counseling and peer support, and funds injury adaptive sports and recreation programs.

Bauschke is accepting donations in set amounts of $10 or $25, or pledges per mile. A 25 cents-per-mile pledge, times 68 miles, equals $17. A 50 cents-per-mile pledge would equal $34. A $1 per-mile pledge would equal $68.

To donate, call Bauschke at (360) 298-1013, e-mail him at thruhiker@aol.com, or meet him at American Legion Post 163 on Friday, beginning at 6 p.m.

After his Kilimanjaro climb, Bauschke will return to Fort Drum, N.Y., to serve out the 13 months remaining in his enlistment. He said he will return to Friday Harbor when his enlistment ends.

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