My Last Tour: School Supplies

An Afghan school class in June, 2009
An Afghan school class in June, 2009

In June, Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple introduced WUSF listeners and his blog readers to a school in eastern Afghanistan. It is in triple sessions because there are too many students. This week, the Tampa airman and some of his teammates started their own school supply drive to help the school.

"The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life" - that's a quote from the philosopher Plato. It's also the opening line on Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple's latest blog entry and it's how he views the Afghan War.

Much of what Temple has experienced since deploying to Afghanistan in May has been shaped by an 8-year-old boy he met during his first weeks there.

"He told me, he's like, you don't have to live here. I do," Temple says. "And so, every day he's surrounded by Taliban and he has to fend them off and try to make decisions for himself. And so this is just another way with education, I strongly feel it's a platform of the counterinsurgency to winning this war."

To Temple the pen is mightier than the sword when dealing with Afghan children. He has witnessed the impact of a few donated school supplies. So he emailed his wife Liisa Hyvarinen Temple.

"He just asked me can you send me some school supplies, these kids don't want candy they want pens," Hyvarinen Temple says.

Over the next couple of months, Temple worked and got the military's permission to start a school supply drive.

"Here's an opportunity that even though people are in the United States that they can fight back against the Taliban using non-lethal, non-kinetic forces. The Taliban is against education, especially for the females," Temple says. "We're trying to so hard to educate the young children here. But then the Taliban turn around and they blow up the schools. They burn down the schools. So even being a child going to school, they take a risk."

Temple's project has been adopted by the charitable foundation of the law firm Holland & Knight where George Howell is a partner and foundation board member.

"The focus of the foundation as far as children goes is education. So this is a natural," Howell says. "And, there was a connection here because SMSgt. Temple is based at MacDill (Air Force Base) and currently imbedded in Afghanistan so there's a local connection as well."

Another local institution volunteered to act as a drop off point for the supply drive. Capt. John Timmel is founder and chairman of the SS American Victory Mariners Memorial and Museum Ship.

"Our mission is to teach and isn't it great that we can not only teach the children of our country ," Timmel says. "The American Victory is a perfect match for this project to be the repository for tools and supplies that can be used for the education of Afghan children."

The idea of buying an extra box of crayons or pad of paper is beginning to catch on from a Boy Scout pack to the board room of the law firm Foley & Lardner where Chris Griffin collected a full bin of supplies.

"That we could buy a pencil or a pad or an eraser and that it would actually be placed into the hand of a school child in Afghanistan it makes a difference," Griffin says. "What kind of difference? We hope a significant difference."

Temple's wife is organizing the drive state-side. And she emphasizes that it's a grassroots effort. He has even bigger hopes.

"I'm going to start with some of the local schools, but eventually where I really want to go are out into the remote villages to some of the poorest children," Temple says. "These are the ones that may not even have a school and they conduct their classes under an awning or even a large shade tree."

To learn more about Temple's School Supplies Drive click here.

To hear other stories with Temple and view photographs from Afghanistan click here.

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