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From Baghdad to Webutuck

WEBUTUCK — Red Hook native Shawn Conway only had two weeks home after a year and a half on tour in Baghdad, Iraq, but he chose to spend some of it in a Webutuck classroom.Conway, 21, is the nephew of fourth-grade teacher Denise Conway, who teaches at Eugene Brooks Intermediate School. He made the trek to Webutuck on Feb. 17, a little less than a week after arriving stateside.Conway, as he explained to his aunt’s students, is a truck driver for the United States Army in Iraq. He helps close out bases as the United States continues to pull out troops from the Middle East.Students were surprised to find out how much the trucks he drives weigh (close to 70,000 pounds) and envious of the 70 degree days and 40 degree nights. “I wish I was there,” pined one student.Dressed in fatigues, Conway joined the students for story hour, while reading specialist teacher Karen Rubin introduced a real-life story called, “Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle,” written by a U.S. soldier who adopted a stray he found during his tour in Iraq.The students were perhaps most animated when Conway was able to use the Google Earth mapping software, running on the classroom’s SMARTboard, to zoom in from satellites to the exact barracks in Iraq where he was stationed. He gave the students a virtual tour around sections of the city, pointing out important landmarks of his everyday life abroad.Mrs. Conway’s class has been sending Shawn cards for the holidays and for his birthday. He said it usually takes three weeks for letters to reach him, and the students said they would continue sending them.The teacher talked about the possibility of her class staying connected with Conway via video chat and explained that doing so was a way to learn about another part of the world, as well as to show students the different paths and choices available to them after high school.Conway, for his part, said that he still had a few more years to serve and, although he was still deciding whether or not to stay in the Army, the experience was giving him valuable life lessons. While it is definitely very different geographically in Iraq, he said, the civilians aren’t as different as people expect.“They don’t speak much English,” he told the students about Iraqis. “But they pretty much look just like people do around here. It’s pretty Western.”

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