Navy pilots visit Willis Rd. Elementary pen pals

A hero’s welcome — Students at Willis Road Elementary School near Sharpsburg turned out May 11 to welcome Lt. Commander Luke Suber (pictured) and Lt. Commander John Voight. Suber recently returned from Afghanistan where he and others had received more than 200 CARE packages and endless letters from Merry Nicholson’s first-grade class and others in the school. Photo/Ben Nelms.

It was nothing short of a hero’s welcome for Lt. Commander Luke Suber (USN) and Lt. Commander John Voight (USN) when they arrived at the Coweta County airport May 11 and rode with Merry Nicholson’s first-grade class on a school bus back to Willis Road Elementary School near Sharpsburg. The trip to the Georgia school was Suber’s way of saying thanks for the many CARE packages and letters he and others received while stationed recently in Afghanistan.

Suber and Voight serve with Naval Air Station Oceana/Air Detachment Norfolk in Virginia. Suber recently returned from several months in Afghanistan. While there he and others were the recipients of more than 200 CARE packages and an endless number of letters from Merry Nicholson’s first grade class.
“He was so touched to receive a bundle of letters from Merry’s first graders that he promised to fly himself down here and say hello,” said Willis Road Principal Charles Smith.

Suber and Voight flew into the Coweta County airport around mid-morning on May 11. Waiting for them was a bus load of Willis Road kids, the same first graders whose letters Suber had received half a world away during his seven-month stay in Afghanistan. The Navy commanders boarded the school bus and made the trek to Wills Road, surrounded by adoring fans.

The bus pulled into the school’s parking lot around 11 a.m. to a waiting group of kids serving as the school’s welcoming committee. Voight and Suber stepped off the bus to a large group of flag-waving and cheering Willis Road Wolfpack students. There was applause, more cheering and loud chants of “USA, USA, USA.” The two military men greeted the students one by one, shaking hands and thanking the students for their support.

The two, accompanied by Smith and a group of teachers and students, entered the building and made a short turn into the cafeteria. And that’s where the reception got even more interesting.

The cafeteria was jammed with students eating or preparing to eat lunch. But any thoughts of a noontime meal went out the window when Suber and Voight entered the room. The whole place erupted into spontaneous, non-stop cheering. Responding to their animated fans, Voight and Suber slowly made their way through the large room, taking time to shake hands and offer words of greetings and thanks.

The two later toured the school and spent time with the letter-writing first graders. And after all was done, Suber and Voight got a large send-off from the entire school.

Both Suber and Voight expressed their appreciation that the young children of Willis Road would take the time to write and send supplies half way across the world to service members they do not know.

And as for the kids themselves and the impression made by the visit from Voight and Suber, the exuberance in their voices and in their eyes said it all.