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Going home to give back

U.S. Air Force Capt. John DeLaurentis, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing deputy director, plans and programs, speaks to students at Sherman Elementary School in Roselle, New Jersey, May 30, 2018. DeLaurentis spoke to the first-grade class about their goals in hopes to inspire and motivate them. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. John DeLaurentis, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing deputy director, plans and programs, speaks to students at Sherman Elementary School in Roselle, New Jersey, May 30, 2018. DeLaurentis spoke to the first-grade class about their goals in hopes to inspire and motivate them. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. John DeLaurentis, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing deputy director, plans and programs, poses for a photo with students and teachers at Sherman Elementary School in Roselle, New Jersey, May 30, 2018. DeLaurentis visited the first-graders to show appreciation for a surprise package he received from the class. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. John DeLaurentis, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing deputy director, plans and programs, poses for a photo with students and teachers at Sherman Elementary School in Roselle, New Jersey, May 30, 2018. DeLaurentis visited the first-graders to show appreciation for a surprise package he received from the class. (Courtesy Photo)

A letter written by a student at Sherman Elementary School in Roselle, New Jersey, was sent to U.S. Air Force Capt. John DeLaurentis, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing deputy director, plans and programs, to show support for his military service. Students learned about DeLaurentis during a lesson about Memorial Day and wanted to thank him by sending him letters and drawings. (Courtesy Photo)

A letter written by a student at Sherman Elementary School in Roselle, New Jersey, was sent to U.S. Air Force Capt. John DeLaurentis, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing deputy director, plans and programs, to show support for his military service. Students learned about DeLaurentis during a lesson about Memorial Day and wanted to thank him by sending him letters and drawings. (Courtesy Photo)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --

U.S. Air Force Capt. John DeLaurentis, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing deputy director, plans and programs, visited Sherman Elementary in Roselle Park, New Jersey, May 30, 2018.

DeLaurentis made the trip back to his hometown to show his appreciation for a surprise package he received from a group of first-graders who wanted to thank DeLaurentis for his military service.

For DeLaurentis, the hometown visit meant much more than just saying ‘thank you.’ He said he wanted to let the students know exactly how much their letters impacted him.

“It actually came during a really difficult time for me,” said DeLaurentis. “I had just put my dog down that week and I was just kind of dragging along. My morale was really low so when I got their package it really picked me up.”

The class had learned about the intelligence officer from one of their teachers, a childhood friend of DeLaurentis, during a lesson about Memorial Day. After the lesson, the students assembled a package full of thank you letters, drawings and also included some of DeLaurentis’ favorite snacks. 

“I could see that they took a lot of time to learn about me and write to me,” said DeLaurentis. “I could have just sent them a card, but I felt like a more personal response was appropriate for them.”

Having attended Sherman Elementary as a child, DeLaurentis said this was his chance to give back to his old neighborhood.

“I ran into some of my old teachers when I was there and it just reminds you of your roots and where you come from,” said DeLaurentis. “I can remember people who spoke to me when I was in school and the kind of impression they left on me. That’s what I wanted to do with these kids: leave them with a good message and hope for their future.”

DeLaurentis arrived at the classroom ready to talk to the students about himself, but more importantly, he said he wanted to focus on them. He presented each student with an American flag and gifted two U.S. Air Force coins to the whole class.

“This was all about them,” said DeLaurentis. “I wanted to make a point to encourage them to pursue their goals. Some kids wanted to join the military while others talked about more artistic careers like acting or illustrating. I just wanted them to know that they can do whatever they wanted.”

The teachers coordinated for the students to wear red, white and blue to show their support of DeLaurentis and they sang Star Spangled Banner upon his arrival. DeLaurentis said he stood at attention to show them the proper military customs and courtesies. 

“I was brought to tears,” said DeLaurentis. “I was emotional that a bunch of young kids are learning about me and consider me someone to look up to.”