Sunflower Elementary second-graders met a real-life U.S. Army soldier Friday.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stacey Burns, visited with the students and presented the school with U.S. and Kuwait flags that flew over her unit in Kuwait. Burns, who lives in Baldwin City, was deployed to Kuwait for nine months and returned home Thursday.

Second-grade students in Laura Jeannin’s class became pen pals with Burns’ unit, which included several soldiers from Kansas.

“You realize you made their day when they received those letters,” Burns told the students. “It was pretty awesome.”

Burns told the second-graders the flags flew over her unit on Dec. 9 and she brought a certificate of authenticity.

“It is symbolism, why we are there,” Burns said. ”I want them to know what they meant to us.”

Jeannin said the experience is hopefully something the students will remember for a lifetime.

“It made it real for them,” Jeannin said to have Burns come and talk to them. “We want to make learning a real-life experience for them. It was neat to have them have a visual and a tangible way [to relate]. A pen pal, you [usually] don’t get to see the person. It was so neat to listen to them ask questions. You could see them pull in that interest in what she does and the fact that she is serving our country.”

Burns said it was a humbling experience for her to meet the students that wrote those letters.

“The kids were awesome and honest,” she said. “They bring out the best in people. I felt very special. Their eyes made your day.”

Burns played an integral role in the letter writing as she delivered the mail to the soldiers.

“They were addressed to a specific soldier,” she said. “We had a huge amount of folks that wanted to participate in it. We wrote them back.”

Jeannin said the students were so excited to receive those letters from the soldiers.

“It was fun to talk about [the armed forces],” Jeannin said. “We started around Veterans Day. We introduced the idea of serving your country. We used a background of that to build into what they actually were doing and writing. It is a bright day when you actually get a letter from a kid. It is the little things. You don’t always realize it impacts someone as it does. That is one thing we talk about here is how you act towards people and how you can give. We read about gratitude. We read about cultures and people being in different places. It is so neat for the kids to have a real-life experience to connect it to because it includes all those things we want to teach our kids.”

Burns answered questions from the students about her experience in Kuwait. She told them it was hot during the summer, reaching 130 degrees. She told them how rewarding it was to be in the armed forces.

“There are some smart kids in that group,” Burns said. “It is great for those kids to learn something that we have not done in a long time.”

Jeannin said it was neat to see the interaction the students had with Burns and vice-versa.

“She was personable with them,” Jeannin said. “It was awesome that she came [in uniform] and spoke as she did, answered questions.”

Burns first made the flag presentation to Jeannin, which was a surreal experience for the teacher.

“It was a goosebump moment,” Jeannin said. “It was a surprise to me. It was above and beyond expectation.”

Shannon Fanning, Sunflower Elementary principal, accepted the flags on behalf of the school and the Ottawa school district.

“We will find a special place to display this,” she told Burns.

Jeannin hopes the students realize how special it was to have Burns visit the school and present the flags.

“It is really neat,” Jeannin said. “It is something that will help you hold this memory. Remember how you can impact other people and how they impacted us as well. What seemed so little, meant so much to other people. It is a huge thing.”