Army firefighter thanks middle schoolers | SierraSun.com

Army firefighter thanks middle schoolers

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

As Truckee high graduate Josh Maehler spoke of working in the oppressive heat beneath Iraq’s desert sun, local middle schoolers sat raptly focused on the Army firefighter whose life they have become involved in over the last couple weeks.

Maehler’s visit to the eight-grade North Tahoe Middle School class was filled with photos and stories of the desert ” but, most of all, he thanked the group of students who have taken the time to correspond with and support a group of deployed firefighters at war.

The connection between the North Tahoe local and the middle school class began with a quick conversation.

“We’ve got all these boys over there [in Iraq] and they’re not getting communication ” would you mind if we used your English class [to write them letters]?” Placer County community services officer Melinda Maehler asked North Tahoe Middle School teacher Marcia Tierney a few weeks back.

Soon, a relationship formed between Tierney’s eighth-grade language arts students and Maehler’s 25-year-old son, U.S. Army firefighter Josh Maehler.

The students started writing to Maehler and his fellow soldiers and collecting toiletries to send overseas, but before Tierney hit the post office Maehler took a short break from his duty in Iraq to celebrate his wedding anniversary ” and visit North Tahoe Middle School students Thursday.

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“I came down here to personally thank these guys … for sending us boxes of razors, soap, toothpaste, beef jerky,” Maehler said.

Maehler, a Truckee High School graduate in 2000, is visiting Truckee this week on a short leave before heading back to Iraq for another five months. Because he missed Christmas and Thanksgiving, Maehler wanted to surprise his new wife, Erin Aquino Maehler, for their first wedding anniversary.

“I’ve already been gone for half of [our marriage],” Maehler joked.

Maehler is one of about 300 active duty firefighters with the U.S. Army. He first spent time in Iraq for six months in 2004 and 2005, and then began another year of service last September. Maehler will still have one more year with the U.S. Army but doesn’t expect to be deployed to Iraq again. His service ends in November 2008 and Maehler plans to return to the Truckee area and go back to school for a teaching degree.

The young soldier got a taste of life at the head of the classroom Thursday as he presented video clips and a slideshow of photos from Iraq for inquisitive seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Maehler, an animated teacher-in-the-making, described the discomfort of Iraq’s sweltering heat dressed in an extra 75 pounds of gear, explained how the Army built a water treatment plant for Iraqi citizens, shared a video clip of an Iraqi soldier playing traditional Middle Eastern music on his string guitar, and laughed how the Iraqi children that don’t speak English still understand words like “Gatorade” and “Pepsi.”

While Tierney’s language arts class has formed a personal relationship with Maehler, Claire Price’s seventh-grade social studies class wanted to hear a firsthand account of life in the Middle East.

Price’s students are studying the culture, traditions and history of Iraq and surrounding countries and have been dressing in Middle Eastern attire for the last few weeks.

The students wear the traditional headdresses for men or women during class to get a better understanding of what it is like for Iraqis of the same age.

“Right now it’s important that they understand there’s a whole other way to think,” Price said. “I like them to dress up during each unit because they really feel like they’re there.”

Maehler said he’s enjoying his short break from the dry Middle Eastern air with his wife and family in Truckee, and looks forward to coming home for good.