Guardians of Kosovo: Hillcrest students honor Task Force Hurricane

Members of Task Force Hurricane on the ground in Kosovo celebrate the arrival of their care packages from Trumbull.
Members of Task Force Hurricane on the ground in Kosovo celebrate the arrival of their care packages from Trumbull.

In schools across the country, Veterans Day is viewed as a chance to educate children about the United States military.

Like their peers, social studies teachers at Hillcrest Middle School in Trumbull are always seeking to create new lessons and projects that will further enrich and deepen students’ appreciation for the active and inactive service members of America’s armed forces.

That’s what inspired this year’s Veterans Day special program that highlighted the work being done by a unit called Task Force Hurricane, a subdivision of Multinational Battle Group East and made up of Connecticut’s National Guard 1st Battalion, and its deployment in Kosovo.

Social studies teacher Laura Alford and special education teacher Melissa Giaquinto designed and taught the subject with the help of Giaquinto’s fiancé, who is the head officer in Task Force Hurricane.

Students learned that the group was deployed to conduct peacekeeping operations for the Republic of Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008 after years of poor relations with Serbia.

In addition, the class taught the young learners that the unit has been recognized for extinguishing fires, hosting demonstrations for schools in Kosovo and taking part in violence-free workshops led by the Rotary Club International.

After the lecture, students wrote letters to the unit’s members — an opportunity to help students directly connect with those in the military and open their eyes to other types of military actions other than combat, Giaquinto and Alford said.

“We’ve done letter writing in the past,” said Alford. “But the students were never this involved. The heart and soul the students put into these letters was truly wonderful to see.”

She also said she feels the peacekeeping rather than combat is what drew kids in more, as well as seeing what the unit did via PowerPoint and video.

Different outlooks

Giaquinto added that the lesson helped students differentiate Veterans Day from Memorial Day. Student Wasif Zaman is one student who realized that difference and now has a new outlook on active servicemen after this past Veterans Day.

“I realized that there are still people out there serving and peacekeeping and I respect them for that,” said Zaman.

Care packages

As if the letters were not enough to show their newfound appreciation, the students and faculty of the middle school gathered enough resources to collect several care packages for Task Force Hurricane, thanks to the school’s Interact Club, which is run by Kathleen Belmont and Gina Cebulski.

The club implemented what it called a flash drive — a donation period when students were asked to bring entertainment items, snacks, candy, hot sauces, and reusable water bottles and, in return, students were allowed to wear their headphones during their lunch periods.

Giaquinto said the donation was a success, with students and faculty gathering five large boxes worth of supplies with between 80 and 100 letters in each box.

To pay the postage for each box, the Interact Club planned an event called Change for Change. Jars were left by the cash registers in the lunch lines in which students and faculty could drop spare change, and more than $200 was raised to send the boxes to Kosovo, with excess funds being donated to Trumbull Social Services.

Giaquinto said the troops received the boxes and the soldiers were more than grateful and would like to return the favor to Hillcrest.

She added that the majority of the soldiers in Task Force Hurricane live in Connecticut and are trying to coordinate a visit when her fiancé comes back in March.

She said it would be a unique and enlightning experience for the students, who will be signing a large “welcome home” banner when the unit returns.