A long way from Baghdad
Genesis students ask questions about war, meet their penpal serviceman face to face
As military men and women come home on leave, they spend their time in various ways.
Chris Brest not only couldn't wait to visit with his family, parents Gordon and Terri Brest and their other five children in Tonganoxie -- but also to spend time in his new home near Springfield, Mo., where his wife, Jessica, had recently moved.
Friday morning, Chris and Jessica drove from Springfield to Tonganoxie so he could see his family again before he flew back to Kuwait on Monday. The visit also included meeting with classes at Genesis Christian Academy, where Chris' brother, Elliott, attends classes.
Students at Genesis have been keeping track of Brest for about a year now -- first when he was at Fort Riley waiting for deployment, and since March when he was sent to Kuwait.
A truck driver, Brest's job routinely takes him through dangerous territory. His route includes driving from Kuwait to Baghdad.
Students at Genesis asked Brest about the intricacies of military life -- such as what clothes he wears, where he sleeps at night, how many bullets he carries and what he would do if he ran out.
"There are 800 bullets in my truck," Brest said. "But if I ran out I guess I'd start throwing rocks and stuff."
The drive across Iraq goes slowly, Brest said, noting his truck's top speed is 48 mph. And his truck is large. When sitting in the driver's seat, Brest is 14 feet above the ground.
Brest passed around the rooms a piece of fabric from a chair in one of Saddam Hussein's castles, and a piece of carpet. Also, the children looked at dollar bills from other nations.
When at the base in Kuwait, Brest is stationed with two Tonganoxie friends -- Scott Ward and Jimmy Thorne. All three graduated from THS together in 1998. Ward orders parts for the trucks, Thorne repairs them and travels on the convoys, and Brest drives the trucks.
Brest, who thinks he will likely be in the Middle East through April, said that even while overseas, he stays in touch with home. He and Jessica talk on the phone twice a day, and he and his parents frequently send e-mails. And of course, there's communication from school children and others at home. Brest told the students at Genesis that he couldn't begin to explain to them how important their packages and letters have been to him.
In one of the classrooms Brest visited, he saw pictures of himself taped to the wall along with a letter he had written to the students. Nearby was a large envelope labeled: Letters to Sgt. Chris.
"It just means so much to know that people at home are thinking about us when we're over there," Brest said.