In his long history with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, Chief Master Sergeant Terry Creegan has received many messages, cards and care packages from civilians while overseas.
“I always respond in a like manner,” he said.
No letter though ever tugged as his heartstrings quite like the one that 14-year-old Mariah Mack of Cranberry recently sent him.
An eighth-grader at Seneca Valley Middle School, Mariah sent Creegan a missive as part of a November service project her academic team did with the local chapter of The Sentinels of Freedom, a national nonprofit providing support to severely injured soldiers returning to civilian life.
In her letter to Creegan, Mariah described her hobbies of soccer, horseback riding and being outdoors, calling her interests petty and unimportant compared to the tough lives soldiers endured.
“I do what I do so she can enjoy her ‘petty’ hobbies,” he said. “She talks about how unimportant they are, but they’re not unimportant. They’re not trivial. They’re why the people in the military do what they do.”
He decided to tell her so in person.
On leave from Afghanistan, where he will return in June, Creegan stooped by the middle school last week to give Mariah an American flag flown on his base in her honor and a certificate of recognition and thanks for her letter.
Creegan also gave a presentation to the Hawks team—the eighth-grade students are broken into five different academic team all named after birds—detailing military life overseas.
“You guys live in a very, very special place,” he said to students as he showed them photos of a tent-like Afghanistan home with none of the amenities Americans are used to, including running water.
Creegan also showed the students images of his base in Afghanistan, which is home to 32,000 soldiers, and the letters and cards from civilians that decorate their offices.
“It’s a big deal for us, particularly for those who’ve been there for as long as I have,” he said.
Creegan also answered questions from the students. When one eighth-grader asked him what his most memorable day was, the chief master, who joined the military during the Vietnam War, replied meeting his now wife—who also is in the military—on a base overseas shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They married two years later.
At Creegan’s answer, the students broke into applause. Although he's from Pittsburgh originally, Creegan said he moved to his wife’s hometown in Iowa after they wed. After his visit to Seneca Valley, he told students of his plans to board a plane to Iowa and surprise Mary, who was not expecting her husband home yet.
As for Mariah, she said Creegan’s presentation was “very cool.” She wrote her letter not knowing who would end up reading it but hoping it would brighten someone’s day, she said.
English teacher Autumn Lynn, who helped organize the project, said the care all the students put into their letters to soldiers impressed her. The Hawks will repeat the project next year, she said.
“They put 100 percent of their hearts into it,” she said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”