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School club sends thank-you messages to Army Reserve unit
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Flowery Branch High School student Hannah Bailey signs a banner supporting the reservists of the 802nd Ordnance Company in Afghanistan. The banner is a project of the school’s Parachute Packers Club. - photo by Tom Reed

FLOWERY BRANCH — A high school hospitality club has expanded its role this year to show gratitude to another service group, the Gainesville-based 802nd Ordnance Company.

Flowery Branch High School students belonging to the Parachute Packers Club plan to send a care package later this month to members of the U.S. Army Reserve unit. The package will include thank-you banners featuring scribbled messages of gratitude from students.

The unit, stationed in Afghanistan, has been deployed since December.

“Most of the families in this unit are also local. That ... makes it even more special to our student body,” said the club’s adviser, English teacher Bridget Rodriguez.

Typically, club members serve as hosts at special events, such as a program set for Thursday night for next year’s freshmen. They also serve as mentors to new students “who might not have that first year of success.”

The club’s mission “is to support others so they can be successful in what they’re doing,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the whole reason we’re here. The parachute packer (in the military carries out a job) so that the pilot can be confident that if he needs to eject, (the parachute) will be there.”

When she heard about the 802nd’s deployment, Rodriguez approached Principal Mark Coleman and asked if the club could expand its focus. Getting his approval, Rodriguez sought out family members with the military unit.

“They’ve been very receptive to us,” she said. “... The students have been thrilled to be a part of it, too.”

The group has 30-plus students, mostly sophomores.

One of those is 10th-grader Michaela Smith.

“This is a great opportunity just to help people out and do something for my community and the soldiers,” she said.

The club placed a banner in the cafeteria during lunch for students to drop by and sign.

Rodriguez encouraged the signings in an announcement to the noisy crowd.

“Tell the soldiers thank you for serving,” she said, holding a microphone.

The club is including a wide variety of items in its packages to the reservists, including reading materials and comics, “just something to get their mind off what’s really happening around them,” Rodriguez said.

“We want them to know we appreciate what they’re doing,” she added.

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