MCB CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) gathered at their headquarters building for a special awards ceremony on April 23, held in appreciation of their successful operations in Afghanistan.
The awards, however, were not given by their commanding officer; they were handed out by school children. Four children from California and Minnesota arrived with their parents and relatives to award each Marine a medal and a letter of appreciation prepared by one of many children across the country who participated in the program.
"We wanted to say welcome home," said Julia Broshears, 13, of Cottage Grove, Minn. "We are four children but we represent millions."
Brad Low of Woodbury, Minn., described how the idea first came about two months before. He and his wife Diana have a home reward system for their children. They often discussed the system with their two sons Casey, 8, and Cody, 7, which offers them input in the way of parenting.
"We were watching the news and my mom asked us if we could give a medal to anyone in the world who would it be," said Cody. "We said the Marines."
That gave Diana and her family all the motivation they needed to call family and friends across the country to find a broader representation of the nation's children.
"My wife is a 'go-getter,'" said Brad. "Schools from California, Illinois, Arizona and Minnesota wrote the letters."
The children wrote letters that expressed how much they appreciated the service members' sacrifice for their families and the country.
"I am very proud of the work that you are doing for us," wrote Kelley, 15, from a school in Cottage Grove, Minn. She continued, "All I really wanted to do is say thanks for everything. Everyone wants you to know that you're in our prayers for your bravery."
"We appreciate what you do so much," said Julia. "You had families and children and you went over there to fight."
The children may not understand the political complexities of today's conflicts, but the Marines listening to 13-year-old Julia speak after the awards were handed out, knew the children understood the important things.
"It's surprising to hear the children's understanding of the situation from what they told us and from their letters," said Cpl. Dale Payer, 26th MEU command element. "Those kids are sharp."
After the ceremony, the children and their parents took a short tour of Camp Lejeune.
"I think it went very good," said Cody. "Better than expected."