COLUMBIA – When Hickman High School students sent care packages overseas in December, they didn’t think that the candy in their packages would be used in military missions.
In November, Ericka Sibit’s classes adopted Staff Sgt.* T.J. Shady Jr. and sent him a Christmas care package.
"Everybody pitched in and brought in supplies and then we got all that together and shipped that over to him," said Sibit, who teaches math at Hickman. "Care packages included baby wipes, candy, beef jerky, games, DVDs. We had a bunch of Sudoku puzzles ... gives him a little treat of our math classes."
Shady, who was serving in Iraq at the time, stopped by Hickman to thank the students on Friday and explained the importance of the candy the students sent over.
Shady's unit, along with an interpreter, was responsible for talking with village elders to find out about terrorist activities in their area. But, it's difficult to speak to the elders because the village's children are required to be by their side at all times, he said.
That's where the candy came in handy.
“What we get to do is distract the children with candy, with crayons, coloring books … we grouped these children over here," he said, motioning with his hands while speaking to the class, "so the interpreter can talk to the intelligence officer to find out what’s in the area, what’s been going on since we have left that village or that area.”
Sibit said that the students were excited about Shady's visit.
"The students get to see that it's not just about them. They get to see the broader picture," she said. "Because he got to come, they got to meet him and see what those packages did, I think they're realizing that it's nice to help others."
Hickman sophomore Brittany Avery was one of the leading students in adopting Shady and making the care package.
“I think it’s amazing that he has done so much for our country, and it’s awesome that he’s coming here to talk to us about it,” she said.
Shady's home of record is in Maquoketa, Iowa at his parents' home. "My plan is to go back overseas to my troops." He is currently at a two-star general’s discretion, meaning he could be contacted via e-mail to let him know when and where he’s returning to duty.
After being in the Middle East since 2006, Shady said that 13 different groups sent him care packages such as the one from the Hickman students.
“To you it might seem insignificant," he told the students. "The things you put in those packages accomplished the mission. It reduced the injuries that could have been caused in their culture where their children are taught to be suicide bombers and things like this.”
Sibit hopes to continue adopting a soldier every year.