Siblings get surprise call from mom serving in Iraq

Siblings Holli, Nolan and Batton Acree knew they were getting a surprise Tuesday morning, but the students at Wingate Elementary School never expected this.

To the children’s delight, the face of their mother, Maj. Carrie Acree, a 22-year Army veteran who has been stationed in Iraq since July, beamed into the school’s gymnasium to an adoring crowd of nearly 500 students.

“Thank you for letting me into your school,” Acree said via a choppy teleconference video feed.
With the 10-hour time difference, halfway around the world in Iraq, Acree told students about Veterans Day observances the troops there were celebrating.

“I’m very proud of my mom,” gushed Nolan, a fourth-grader, after the ceremony. “She helps our country fight for our freedoms.”

The children’s father, Rich Acree, said his wife is serving a second tour in Iraq, which is expected to end in July.

The mother attends parent-teacher conferences via teleconference and reads books aloud on DVDs that she sends home to their kids, he said.

“Her biggest challenge is staying connected to the children,” said Rich, a sergeant at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.

But the kids will eagerly tell you they don’t have to wait until mid-summer to see their mom again. The family has plans to romp around Disney World during her much-anticipated two-week leave in March.

“We’re going to ride the biggest roller coaster,” enthused Batton, a fifth-grader.

Other local military veterans spoke at the school’s ceremony including Jamie O’Donnell, Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Shaneyfelt and Colorado National Guard Sgt. Jeff Baker and Matt Blum.

Blum, a medic, served nine months in Iraq and Kuwait. Part of his slideshow presentation showed troops building a major highway in Iraq, which he dubbed the Interstate 70 of the war-torn country. But the photo of a young Iraqi girl whose arm had been badly burned in a cooking fire most captivated students’ interest.

“Two months later ... her arm was in perfectly good shape,” Blum told students about the first aid she received from American troops. 

O’Donnell said she didn’t think much about going into the military herself as a young girl, though she was surrounded by veterans growing up. After joining and serving three years in the Army, O’Donnell now works as a surgical clerk at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Grand Junction.

O’Donnell spoke of the range of veterans she works with, whose service spans from World War II to the Iraq War.

During the presentation, Rich Acree, along with his wife on the video screen, smiled while watching Holli and her second-grade class sing a patriotic song.

“We manage,” Rich Acree said about his family’s home life as he hugged the boys and tousled their hair. “They’re pretty good guys. They’re resilient.”


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