When she learned earlier this year that her Army National Guard unit was soon to deploy, a third-grade teacher at a Pennsylvania elementary school faced the challenge of telling her 22 students about her departure.

“When I told them that I was … going overseas and showed them on a map where the Middle East was, they were definitely surprised I would be going so far away and for so long,” said Spc. Anna Schmeck, who is usually found at Conrad Weiser West Elementary School in Womelsdorf. Now she’s at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, deployed with Headquarters Support Company, 628th Aviation Support Battalion, 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.

According to a fact sheet provided by the brigade’s public affairs officer, Cpt. Travis Mueller, the National Guard brigade is currently deployed throughout the Middle East supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State, in addition to Operation Spartan Shield. The unit has been conducting combat and medevac operations since this summer.

That hasn’t stopped Schmeck from staying involved with her students, however, nor have issues with the time difference and unpredictable daily routine of her deployment.

Schmeck has managed to remain connected with her students and colleagues through letters, live video conferencing with classes, recorded book read-aloud videos, and other recorded messages.

“I started by just making a short video for the kids at the beginning of the school year to wish them good luck,” Schmeck explained. “I love my students as if they’re my own children. I always refer to them as ‘my kids.’”

Schmeck described the response from her “school family” as “amazing.”

“I have received multiple care packages and many letters/cards. I love reading all of [them] from all the students,” she said.

She is currently working on a special holiday message for the kids and their families, and “one of our soldiers made a great sign for us to take a picture with to send home,” she explained.

After the holidays, Schmeck also plans to create a series of videos to teach the students about her fellow soldiers’ various military and civilian jobs, time permitting. She said it was a great opportunity to educate the kids on service career options in an engaging way.

Asked if she had a message for her students, Schmeck said, “I want them to know that even though I am not at school right now to see them, that I am still thinking about them and hope they are all doing well.”

Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.

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