By Staff Sgt. Jeff Lowry, Indiana National Guard
A child's desire to help, a chance meeting and military connections resulted in more than 300 pounds of candy being sent to an Indiana National Guard Soldier deployed to Afghanistan.
Cooper Walchle, a Carmel resident and fourth grade student at Cherry Tree Elementary School, was instrumental in collecting Halloween candy and having his fellow students do the same.
"I hope you guys are all so proud of what you have done at this school; this is just awesome," said Army Reserve 1st Lt. Jamie Bowman during a school-produced TV show. "My husband thanks you immensely for all this."
She also thanked Walchle and his peers for their efforts.
"Cooper thanks for starting this off with just one bag of candy that has grown to all those boxes outside. That is great, and believe me, this candy is going to go to those little kids over in Afghanistan, and I'm sure they are going to greatly appreciate it. Thank you all."
Bowman's husband, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew D. Bowman, an Indiana National Guard Soldier deployed with the 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team in Afghanistan, plans to use the candy as sort of an icebreaker with young Afghan children while on patrols.
"The candy is simply a small tool that we can use to gain access that we may otherwise not have," wrote Bowman in an e-mail from Afghanistan. "What it hopefully will mean to the Afghan children is a better future and a better way of life. When we go outside the wire on our missions and we see the children along the roadsides, we see smiling faces, children waving and giving us two thumbs up."
Cooper did not start with this grand plan, he just wanted to gather candy to send to troops. Soon he and other Cherry Tree Elementary students had collected 180 pounds of candy, but no way of getting it to the Army.
Cooper's mother, Christy, was close to her wits end, but her father suggested going to Defense Finance and Accounting Service building that Christy works near.
"I just pulled in the front and rolled down my window, saw Spc. Lewis and the other gentlemen and said 'excuse me, I was wondering if I could ask you something.' I told him about this one bag of candy, and now all these kids donated all this candy and do you have any suggestions of what I could do with it or how I could ship it."
Indiana National Guard Spc. Anthony Lewis was on break, but had to return to work. However he said he'd call Christy back when he had time.
"So he called me, and he said 'it's so ironic because two weeks ago I got an e-mail from Sgt. Bowman, and he said from what we do we come into contact with so many kids it'd be great to have candy as an icebreaker,'" said Christy. "So then Spc. Lewis met me, and I happened to have all this candy."
To the deployed Bowman, Christy Walchle meeting Spc. Lewis, who he recruited in 2006, represents the part of "The Circle of Life."
"So, what started out as one nine-year-old boy wanting to donate his Halloween candy to the Army has become a much greater gift," wrote Bowman in an e-mail. "Because the right people jumped on board and helped the train get moving in the right direction down the tracks. I call it 'The Circle of Life' - everything in life happens for a reason, and there is always a silver lining."
Bowman also helped in moving the train in the right direction. He e-mailed photos of himself and the Afghan children he met while deployed.
The adults were inspired by the children who wanted to help other children more than 7,000 miles away.
"It's just one thought, just one random act of kindness and what it could lead to and how it's going to reach halfway around the world to kids," said Christy. "It's not like a big fundraiser; it was about candy from one group of kids to another group of kids. It was about candy something that all kids could relate to."
During the TV broadcast Lewis was also moved by Cooper and the Cherry Tree students.
"What you have in here," said Lewis motioning to his heart. "Is always more valuable than anything that you have right here," Lewis said as he held out an open hand. "Selfless service is one of the Army's core values, and the thing that I saw when I spoke to your mom Cooper was that you have that value. You picked it up and ran with it. We have that (selfless service) in common."