SPRING HILL — Students in speech therapist Karen DiCristofalo's class had been sending pictures and letters to Army Staff Sgt. Paul Smith during the school year.
Smith, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, recently was able to answer their questions — in person.
Smith, 30, is DiCristofalo's son-in-law. He was in town for the holidays and visited Deltona Elementary School with his wife, Cara Jill Smith, 23, and their 5-month-old son, Dominic.
The visit, DiCristofalo said, "was the perfect opportunity for him to come in and answer questions.''
DiCristofalo serves about 105 students and had them writing to Smith "to thank him for all he does for our country," she said. She teaches language development: vocabulary, comprehension, speech sounds, responding to questions and grammar.
The students flowed through the room, staying to see Smith for about 20 minutes for each group. Smith thanked them for their correspondence and encouraged them to ask questions.
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"Have you ever been in a tank?" "No. I really want to."
"How's it like being in the Army?" "I love the Army. It's hard, though, sometimes."
"When was your last fight?" "I was in Afghanistan two years ago."
"What do you do?" "I work on computers and make sure everyone gets their records updated and gets paid."
"Have you ever been in a plane?" "Lots of planes and lots of helicopters."
"Ever jump off one?" "No, but that's something I want to do."
Smith's family has a history of military service. "I wanted to go be part of something bigger than myself. I like to be in something when you can actually see progress," he said.
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"Why do you protect our country?" "Because somebody has to do it and I wanted to do it."
"Why can't you just put the bad people in jail?" "The bad people, we try to ask them what they're doing. We're trying to change that. We tell the bad people to change and be good."
"Do you get Christmas up there?" "Yes. Santa comes everywhere."
"Do you get a vacation for Halloween?" "Sometimes."
"Do you usually use an MP 43 (assault rifle)?" "I don't use it, but other people do."
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For Veterans Day, DiCristofalo, 50, had her students draw pictures and send notes to Smith. He shared them with other soldiers.
Third-grader Caitlin Zarcone, 9, explained why she thought Sgt. Smith came to her school and what he does in the Army. "To say thank you about the pictures," she said. His job is to "fight other people to protect our country."
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And more questions.
"How fast can you load your gun?" "I'd say within 10 seconds."
"Have you ever fired a Desert Eagle (gas-operated semiautomatic pistol)?" "I have never fired a Desert Eagle."
"Have you ever saved a princess?" "No," Smith said. "I'm not a Super Mario Brother."