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February 20, 2007 > Return of a hero

Return of a hero

By Arathi Satish

It was a remarkable gathering when Sgt. Daniel Swindle came to visit Gomes Elementary School students in Fremont. Second graders in Rosemary Cortez's class had been in touch with Swindle who had been stationed in Baghdad, Iraq since last August. Swindle had been a Gomes student and graduated from American High School. He received a hero's welcome by the students on his safe return from Baghdad.

Swindle has been in the Air Force for the seven years. He has been working in the personnel department at the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad, which had been a palace of Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein. Rosemary Cortez, a friend of Swindle's mother Mary Kay, encouraged her students to correspond with Swindle. The students were highly excited when their first letter received a reply from Swindle, who was stationed in the Green Zone and had access to computers. Swindle thanked them, saying it was a treat to receive mail from them.

In the mail, Swindle explained to the students that, "The embassy is in the green zone, it is more referred to as the international zone now because the term green implied that it was safe and nothing ever happened. The international zone is basically a bubble within Baghdad. There are numerous checkpoints to get in the area, and it is far more secure than surrounding areas. The Embassy Palace compound is an even more secure, fortified area within the Green Zone and security measures to enter are very tight".

During the holiday season, Swindle's mother decided to surprise her son with a cardboard and tissue paper Christmas tree that could hold ornaments. Cortez's students were very excited when they heard about this and made ornaments for the tree with messages of "Come back soon" and "Merry Christmas" on it. Swindle was touched and hung them on the chandeliers in Saddam Hussein's former palace.

Correspondence between the students and Swindle continued and Swindle promised to visit them once he returned to United States. When he finally arrived, the children were extremely happy to invite him to their classroom, decorated with pictures of Swindle and copies of the letters he had written. Ms. Cortez even baked brownies for everyone. As soon as Swindle arrived, the pledge was said and Martin Luther King's song "There was a man in America who had a dream" played. Swindle was given a file filled with welcome home letters.

Swindle was questioned by the students and said he was very happy to be home. He pointed out that he had been in a totally different environment where they had been attacked many times. He said that even though he had never been hurt, he came close to it. He revealed that it was extremely dusty there, they lived in trailers, sand bags were stacked to protect them with barbed wires going around concrete walls. He said he was afraid many times, but they always moved in a convoy. He also told the students that he enjoyed his job for most part. He stressed the fact that there are many women in the air force. When he was questioned about the feelings of the soldiers, he said there were always mixed feelings, some believed in what they were doing and some did not agree but did their duty because they had committed themselves to do so. He said that he joined the air force as he had strong feeling for the country and wanted to see other places.

Swindle described the Saddam's trial as a surreal and noted that the whole experience was very interesting. He pointed out that visits to a local school in Iraq to hand out toys and school supplies was a very rewarding experience for him.

With pride, Cortez and her students received a U.S. flag from Swindle with a certificate that read, " This flag of the United States was raised over the U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq, on September 11, 2006 by Staff Sergeant Daniel Swindle (USAF) in your honor".

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