Air Force staff sergeants Jeffrey and Chey Weaver had a message for Woodland School fourth-graders who penned letters to them.
"Your letters do get to us," Jeffrey said Thursday during a classroom visit.
"And they mean a lot," Chey added.
The students' letters and care packages had extra meaning for Chey, who went to high school at Woodland. Her cousin, Jaron Follmer, who is in Amber Decker's fourth-grade class, authored one of the letters she received.
Chey's mother volunteers with the American Legion in Long Point and frequently sends letters from Streator, Woodland and Flanagan classrooms to Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, where the Weavers are stationed.
"I was going through them and I came across Jaron's," Chey said. "And I was like, 'Is that our Jaron?' When I realized it was him, I thought, what a complete coincidence."
Chey's grandmother saw further opportunity in the chance encounter.
"She said, 'Why don't you see if they'll let you visit them?' " Chey said. "Jaron's mom helped set everything up."
Decker said her class bubbled with excitement Thursday leading to the late afternoon visit. Jeffrey and Chey were met with eager hands and dozens of questions. In fact, teachers had to put a limit to one question per student.
"They couldn't believe their letters made it all the way to Texas," Decker said. "It's important they get to see how much of a difference their letters make."
Students wanted to know how long the Weavers have been in the military, if they've been to war, how old they were when they joined, and even if they get discounts at restaurants, among other questions.
The students also shared their own stories of family members who are veterans.
"Thank them for their service," instructed Jeffrey, who is from California. "And listen to their stories."
Jeffrey is a special investigator for the military police and Chey is a biomedical equipment repair technician. The couple brought their children, Jude, 7, Kingsleigh, 1, and Harrison, 5 months old, with them for the visit. Chey noted it was Month of the Military Child, and acknowledged the sacrifice children of service members make.
Chey and Jeffrey said Thursday they were glad they made the 1,250-mile trip.
"It's important for us to say thanks," Jeffrey said. "We read these letters and they have an impact. They mean a lot to hear the nice things they say. They keep us going."
Thank you for your service. How are you at the army. I think you all are awesome and I'm gonna be in the army when I'm older, because I want to make a difference because I don't do much good. So I'm trying to do good.