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PUPILS GET ANSWERS ON DESERT SHIELD RETURNING AIR RESERVIST GIVES THEM FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT

The crisis in the Persian Gulf paid a visit to a Cheektowaga school Tuesday.

It came in the form of an Air Force officer delivering personal replies to the schoolchildren's letters to military personnel overseas.

Maj. Paul Kendzierski, just back from Mirage Air Base and the encampment of the 914th Tactical Airlift Group from Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base, answered questions in Maryvale Intermediate School and provided some comfort to the youngsters who have relatives and friends in Operation Desert Shield.

He also passed around some visual aids -- such as a Pepsi can, with the familiar name and logo on one side and the same, in Arabic, on the other.

"Hey, you already drank it," complained the first third-grader who came forward to get a close look at the artifact.

It was safe to say Kendzierski, the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base communications officer and a transoceanic flight navigator, fielded a wider range of questions from the children than he does at military briefings.

"Is there going to be a war?" one child asked.

"Do we have enough weapons there, and can we get their missiles?" another inquired.

"Are there squids there?" a third wanted to know.

Later, after a series of earnest and serious answers, Kendzierski paused for a quick aside. "I just read the latest on Saudi Arabia," he said, "and I don't think it said anything about squids."

There were questions about camels and airplanes, about the sand and heat. Are there snakes in the desert?

Snakes and scorpions, in some places, said the major.

"Awesome," the children said in chorus.

"While I was over there, Col. Cooper gave me a package to answer," said Kendzierski, referring to Col. Paul R. Cooper, commander of the 914th, and the letters the youngsters had written to the men and women in the unit. "So I thought, instead of a note, I'd come and answer your questions in person."

Some of the news -- word, for example, that the nearest town has a Pizza Hut -- floored the schoolchildren. So did the concept of women working as aircraft mechanics, or flying Medevac missions.

"I can't picture a girl flying an airplane," said one boy whose education is likely to get an update.

"Awesome," chorused the girls.

The children in Mary Suppa's class not only have written to the troops, but also have tied a yellow ribbon on the classroom flagstaff. Asked how many of them knew someone serving in the gulf region, about one-fourth of the children in the class raised their hands.

"They've been writing, but to have someone come in and talk to them is really terrific," Mrs. Suppa said. "They'll never forget this."

All of the school's third-graders will take part in a Christmas pageant Thursday. They performed the show's final number Tuesday for the officer who had just come back from the gulf.

"This number is dedicated to the soldiers serving in the Middle East," intoned a young voice. And then 200 voices joined in singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

The major listened, obviously moved by the singing. It was, as the third-graders might well have said, just awesome.

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