|Soldier, a hero to kids, seeks citizenship
LONGMONT — When Spc. Diego
Barros was a little kid, he preferred the History Channel
to Nickelodeon. He watched
old war movies instead of cartoons.
“He always wanted to be a soldier,” said
his mother, Siria Rector, a special education teacher
On Friday, the 22-year-old soldier
came to Columbine to meet the students who wrote letters
and sent care packages
during Barros’ tour of duty in Iraq.
Teacher Wendy Durst headed the writing campaign last year
when she was teaching fourth-graders. She continued it
this year when she switched to teaching third-graders.
About 40 students were on hand to meet the soldier they
had been writing to all year.
Durst said she wanted to show her colleague that the school
cared about her and her son.
“Siria is a friend of mine, and my dad is retired
from the military,” Durst said. “He would go
to sea for three months at a time, and so I know how important
it is to receive mail when someone is so far away.”
Barros, a 2000 graduate of Campion Academy in Loveland,
joined the Army three years ago. He had been stationed
in Germany before heading to Iraq in late April 2002. He
will return to Iraq in December 2005.
The students greeted Barros with
applause and waved small American flags. He said the
children’s letters gave
him great joy during his tour of duty.
“I’m not used to getting mail from kids, but
their questions were really cute, and I would pass them
around to everyone to read,” he said.
“It’s nice to get anything
in the mail. It was the highlight of my day.”
In their letters, which Barros
brought with him, the students asked important questions,
such as “Where
do you go the bathroom during a war?” and “Did
you lose all of your baby teeth?”
In person, their questions were no less curious.
“Do you speak Germany?” asked
third-grader Jessica Perez.
“No, I don’t, but I do know some words,” Barros
The students asked Barros questions
about the Iraqi people and culture (“They have Subway, too,” he told
them), the tank he drove, the uniform he was wearing and “why
are the people on TV trying to tear down a statue.”
Fifth-grader Jerome Melson IV said he was glad to write
“I wanted to thank him for helping to keep our country
safe,” he said.
Rector said the letters were comforting to both her and
“I would get so worrisome,” she said, “but
I think (the letters) let him know that people were thinking
of him, and it helped to get his mind away from what was
Later, Barros said of the Columbine
hope they understand how fortunate they are. Especially
in Iraq, the children have so little, and it’s so
sad. I know they’re too young to realize it, but
these children have possibilities and a future.”
As for Barros’ future, he
said he would like to become a high school history teacher.
And this week, he
will fly to Washington, D.C., to interview to become a
naturalized U.S. citizen.
Born in Brazil, Barros came to
the United States with his mother when he was 9. After
obtaining his green card,
he was able to join the military. Now, he is one step away
from U.S. citizenship. But, he said, “To me, I am
an American already.”
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext.
274, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.