(WBIR-Knoxville) A group of Cedar Bluff Middle School (CBMS) students received a special surprise Wednesday afternoon from a U.S. airman who served in Afghanistan.
Operation Enduring Freedom has been going on for as long as most of these students have been alive.
Technical Sergeant Kevin Hensley has served in the United States Air Force for 19 years. He is now stationed at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia but his parents live in Tellico Village.
The CBMS Gratitude Group wrote him letters for three months while he was serving in Afghanistan.
Their leader, Aimee Bridges, found Sgt. Hensley through "Adopt A US Soldier."
Bridges tricked the middle schoolers into thinking they were meeting Sgt. Hensley through Skype. Then, Sgt. Hensley emerged saying, "Well FaceTime doesn't work so I guess I'd come here to visit you guys. How's that?"
Elizabeth Farmer expressed her surprise to the airman; she sent him 10 letters.
"I see anybody who is in the military, in the services, as a role model. Because they, in a way, will take a bullet for you," said Farmer, a seventh grader at CBMS.
Angellyssa Chandler, also a CBMS seventh grader, spoke with Sgt. Hensley through email for a school project.
"One of my questions was, 'Would he rather do something besides the military or going into the military?' And he said he wouldn't dream of anything else. He'd rather risk his life to save us, than being one who needs to be rescued. And that spoke to me in a way," Chandler said.
Sgt. Hensley surprised the students with a flag that the Airforce flew in Afghanistan in November for the gratitude group.
"I can't thank you enough for the support and dedication you gave me. So it's an honor and a privilege and I salute each one of you," Sgt. Hensley said, before going around the room shaking each student's hand.
Bridges added, "It's such a great opportunity for them to look outside themselves."
According to Bridges, the Gratitude Group started writing to another member of the Armed Forces, who is based in Texas.
The Gratitude Group is a student-led organization that started in 2013.