Wapak Middle School: ‘You are our hero’

Wapakoneta sixth-grade teacher Janet Steinke was able to offer her students an inside look during their study of ancient civilizations.

Steinke’s nephew, 2005 St. Marys graduate Deron Steinke, is a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed in Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan for six months. It resulted in a perfect opportunity as students wrote letters to Deron Steinke during his time in Afghanistan to learn about the culture.

As a token of appreciation for the letters, the staff sergeant went to the class room Thursday and spoke to the students about the Afghani culture.

He noted the students were receptive of the information he shared with them throughout the day.

“It was my way of saying thanks for the letters,” Deron Steinke said. “The kids seemed mostly interested in some of the basic things. What kind of clothes they had, what they were living in, and what kind of food they ate.”

The students surprised Deron Steinke with a cake and other goodies to thank him for his correspondence.

He told the children about several major differences in the Afghani culture.

“It is nothing to see a male hugging another male for two or three minutes,” Deron Steinke said. “The longer you hold them, the more you like them. Here some people might think that is weird.”

Deron Steinke told the students about how deaths are more of a celebration than a mourning and are celebrated for three years after the person passes away. The three faux pas as far as offending them were religion, family and culture. He said other than that, he made friends just like he would anywhere else.

“There is a misconception about them being all terrorists,” Deron Steinke said. “Most of them are just like us. They like us being there.

He talked about prices being lower, although military personnel were often charged prices higher than the locals were charged.

He said he remembered seeing bread or soda priced as low as 10 cents. Though they could shower daily, hot showers were a luxury that he enjoyed only four times in his six months at the base, which was designed as a security unit.

Deron Steinke said it was important to not bring food back to your room because of danger of snakes or mice.

When asked if he had encountered any, he said, “No, but I knew several people who did.”

The students began writing to Deron Steinke in October, nearly as soon as he reached the base.

Janet Steinke said it typically took an extended amount of time for letters to reach their destination. Deron Steinke arrived back in the U.S. approximately two months ago.

He said the thing he missed most was his own bed.