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Soldier visits Fisher classrom

FISHER, Minn. -- Army Pfc. Eric Spehn said boot camp was tough, but he never had to hold his arms up for a half hour, as many in his audience did Monday.

Pfc. Eric Spehn
Pfc. Eric Spehn answers questions about his experiences in Afghanistan from first-, second- and third-graders Monday in Laura Brekken's classroom at Fisher Elementary school. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

FISHER, Minn. -- Army Pfc. Eric Spehn said boot camp was tough, but he never had to hold his arms up for a half hour, as many in his audience did Monday.

Hands were repeatedly raised among more than 40

first-, second- and third-graders at Fisher Elementary School eager to hear of Spehn's experiences in Afghanistan, where he drives Stryker Tanks.

Spehn answered each question.

"Our main purpose is not just to shoot everybody, but to help the government rebuild," he said.

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The Champlin, Minn., native said he always wanted to be in the Army and told his listeners that good grades mean more pay and higher rank. Spehn has been visiting his mother, Cindy, in Crookston. He's on leave until Monday.

His aunt, Fisher first-grade teacher Laura Brekken, arranged for him to talk with the children.

One girl asked what his opinion was of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

"We're doing great things over there," Spehn said. "They want our help. They need it."

Many questions centered on the Stryker Tanks, which Spehn said can reach 100 miles an hour. He said his mission on Thursdays and Sundays is to drive the deputy commander of his brigade to and from meetings. He said he has been shot at.

"As long as everyone comes back A-O.K. ...," Spehn said.

He said summer temperatures in Afghanistan can hit 100 degrees, making it feel like 150 degrees inside the tank.

"Right now, the temperature averages about 64 in the day, 32 at night," he said.

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Spehn said boys and girls in Afghanistan go to separate schools, are "kind of scared of us sometimes" and welcome gifts from American soldiers, especially bottled water.

Brekken's class has been putting together 20 care packages for the children in Afghanistan.

"We've been packing Rice Krispie Treats, granola bars, hand warmers, disposable cameras, just about everything," Brekken said. "He just found out he was going to be home on leave, so it worked out real well."

October was reportedly the worst month for American casualties in Afghanistan. U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been discussing a troop surge with President Barack Obama's administration, saying he needs the manpower to spread deeply across the country and focus on winning over the population rather than simply killing Taliban.

Both Spehn and his mother agree more troops are needed.

"Sure it's getting worse," Eric Spehn said. "Once we get more people over there, it'll get better. What we're doing is worth it."

"In order to accomplish the mission, we need more people over there," Cindy Spehn said. "If not, then we need to pull the people that are there out."

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1262; (800) 477-6572, ext. 262; or send e-mail to jjohnson2@gfherald.com . The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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