Soldier pays a surprise visit to River Crest classroomOn Wednesday, Jan. 6, teacher Rachel Mueller and her third-grade students at River Crest Elementary School got a surprise visit from a soldier they thought was thousands of mile away.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
On Wednesday, Jan. 6, teacher Rachel Mueller and her third-grade students at River Crest Elementary School got a surprise visit from a soldier they thought was thousands of mile away.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, home on leave from Afghanistan for 15 days, stopped in to personally thank the class for their letters and sending 30 pairs of gloves for him to distribute to Afghan children living in orphanages.
Conde, a River Falls resident, is the uncle of one of the student’s in Mueller’s class – Heidi Sandquist.
Heidi’s mother, Laurie Sandquist, arranged the surprise visit.
She gave a message to Mueller that she had something special to show the students concerning their mitten project, but it was too late to send with Heidi on the school bus.
The students appeared stunned initially, and then responded with glee, when Condo walked into classroom. He had waited in the hallway while Mueller delivered a brief set-up.
The class had been studying about Afghanistan for the past month as part of a service learning project.
Laurie Sandquist had shown pictures of Conde visiting an Afghan orphanage which motivated the students to collect money to buy the mittens for the orphans. The students also wrote letters to Conde.
He thanked them for the letters and the mittens.
“They really have it rough. It’s amazing how those people live,” Conde said of Afghans in the area of Mazar-e Sharif, where he is based.
He said the students had assisted in the effort in Afghanistan by sending the mittens.
“We’re very lucky. We should share. That’s what you did,” he said.
Conde told the third-graders that war isn’t a good thing and should be entered into only as a last resort. Sometimes it is necessary, he added.
A member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion based in Wausau, Conde currently is attached to an Army regional support team responsible for training Afghan security forces in the northern part of the country.
He said the team also undertakes projects to improve the country’s infrastructure.
The 47-year-old Conde has risen to the second-highest rank that enlisted personnel can attain. The sergeant major of the Army is the only enlisted soldier who ranks higher than him.
In civilian life, Conde is a district manager for a food service company. He has five children ranging in age from 27 to 12.
His wife, Jennifer, is the sister of David Sandquist of Hudson, Laurie’s husband and Heidi’s father.
Conde also served a tour in Iraq in 2005-06.
After his brief remarks to the class, Conde sat down next to Heidi to answer questions from third-graders – which proved to be remarkably well-informed.
“How did the elections go?” a boy asked.
“What language do the people speak?” a girl wanted to know.
“They’re just people,” Conde said of the Afghan population. “They’re no different than you and me. They’re good people.”
He taught the students to say “God be with you” – which Afghans say when parting - in the language spoken in the north of Afghanistan.
In the tradition of Mueller’s classroom, each student got a handshake or hug (their preference) from Command Sgt. Maj. Conde as they left the classroom at the end of the school day.