From Baghdad, With Love: Soldiers Share Tales from Middle East with Murphy Schoolkids

A few years ago, Rob Gallagher decided to leave his job in the business sector and fulfill a dream to become a teacher. The Cape Cod native was admitted to Wheelock College and when his student teaching came up, he was assigned to the Richard J. Murphy School in Dorchester. The 43-year-old is also a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard 180th Engineer DET. In December 2002, the 43-year-old was sent to the Middle East on a tour of duty until the summer of 2003.

When Gallagher returned home to Massachusetts, and to his post at the Murphy School, he blended his two worlds, putting schoolkids from the Dorchester elementary school in touch with American troops overseas. Gallagher's friends from the 110th Maintenance Company, a unit activated just after his own engineering company, were still there, and he thought it time to repay their generosity, while giving Murphy kids a chance to engage from afar with U.S. soldiers

"They went out of their way, from the top to the bottom, to help us out," Gallagher recalls of the 110th.

were still in the Middle East. Rob contacted Lieutenant Eric Hill from the 110th, another Boston police officer who lives in Dorchester, to see if soldiers in the 110th would like to receive mail from students from the Murphy.

All of the students in Mr. Sepeck's fifth grade class (Gallagher is a student teacher under Sepeck) wrote letters. Soldiers sent back replies and the students received a telephone call from the Middle East.

On Thursday, January 15, while on a two-week leave from his service in the Middle East, Lt. Hill took time away from his wife and young children to visit the Murphy School and personally thank the students for taking the time to show support for his soldiers.

The students were very moved by Hill's visit and shared their thoughts in essays.

"I learned that Lt. Hill risked his life to give us freedom," wrote Xuong Tran.

"What I learned from Lt. Hill is that you should keep on trying until you get it right. He meant a lot to me because he fought for our country and kept it free and caught Saddam Hussein," wrote Keithy Bridgeman.

"I learned from Lt. Hill that when he was in Baghdad, there were children knocking on the door asking him for food and he gave them food. In Iraq, only the males go to school. I have learned a lot from Lt. Hill," said Donique Whittaker.

"I learned that it was very crowded in the tents that they slept in. I also learned that Lt. Hill had to wake up at 5:00 in the morning. Another thing that I learned was that the Iraqis are very poor. Lt. Hill told us that in Iraq there is a camel spider than can jump ten feet high. Another thing that I learned was that you could easily get homesick in Iraq," added Quentin Humphrey.

Murphy School Principal Mary Russo called Hill's visit an uplifting experience.

"It was a wonderful follow-up because they had done something positive and they got a positive response," said Russo. "This sort of thing combines all of their skills, writing, reading, and thinking about your audience, with the idea of doing something nice for people. "

"Lt. Hill gave the students a plaque in appreciation of the support they had shown for his soldiers," Russo said. "The class voted to give me the plaque, so that we could hang it in the hallway for all of the students to enjoy. I was thrilled that they voted to do that, to put others first. The kids came down with the plaque after the Patriots won. It was symbolic of the students working together as a team to do something that the whole school would benefit from."

Sepeck said of his fifth graders' experience, "They walked away knowing about the cultural differences between Americans and Iraqis. They were amazed to hear about the living conditions and that women are treated as second-class citizens in Iraq."

One young lady said, "Well, I am going to college!"