Second-graders mark father’s return, student’s departure
Friday was a bittersweet day for the Hamlet family.
At the end of the school day, Pam Elliott's second-grade class celebrated the return of student Alex Hamlet's father, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Michael Hamlet, from Iraq. But Michael Hamlet's visit also marked Alex's last day at Lansing Elementary School.
Alex and his classmates thanked his father for serving in Iraq by writing cards, a few of which were read out loud. Maisie Conrad read a poem about the branches of the military. Kristen Tonrell said she was glad Alex's dad was back, but noted her father had just left for Iraq and would be gone until 2007.
Michael Hamlet offered Kristen some advice and encouragement.
"Don't listen to the news," he told her. "What your dad's doing is important."
Alex also read his own card, in which he expressed both excitement and apprehension about the family's next adventure, moving to Australia.
Before his tour in Iraq, Michael Hamlet was an instructor at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth. Now, he will participate in an instructor- exchange program and teach at an Australian Army college.
"I got a nice job where I'm not going back to Iraq," Hamlet said.
In his latest tour of duty, Hamlet spent 18 months away from his family. His unit, the 42nd Infantry Division (Mechanical) spent six months at Fort Drum in New York before going to Iraq in December 2004. He was stationed in Tikrit, Iraq, hometown of Saddam Hussein.
Hamlet said he did get to come home for a visit for two weeks at the end of August. When he was overseas, he said he communicated with his family every day by phone or e-mail.
Being able to talk daily to his wife, Sandy, and children, Alex, 8; Amanda, 10; and Alyssa, 13, was "a big change from the days of one phone call every eight or nine months," he said, which was the case when he served for nine months in Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91. Hamlet said communications had even improved since 2003, when he spent six months in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In Alex's classroom, after listening to the students' letters, Hamlet thanked the class for being a friend to Alex.
"That's how you all support me," he said. "That helps us not to have to worry about our family so much."
The class was glad to share memories of Alex. One student said Alex often pretended he was in the Army at recess. Elliott, Alex's teacher, said she remembered how Alex was all smiles at school after Hamlet returned Nov. 14.
"He was so glad to have his dad back home," she said.
Before leaving for Australia at the beginning of January, the Hamlets took their children out of school so the family could visit relatives in Colorado. The move to Australia will be the family's first time living overseas, Michael Hamlet said.