Going home to give back

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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.”