Elizabeth Hamilton, a seventh-grade history teacher at Chandler's Santan Junior High School, will mark her first Thanksgiving as a wife this year.
But she'll do it without her husband of nearly two months.
Less than 30 days after their wedding, her husband, Eric, was deployed to Afghanistan with his Marine platoon.
Elizabeth, 24, plans to spend Thanksgiving with her parents in the East Valley. But she wants to make sure Eric and his fellow Marines know they're appreciated - and she's enlisted the help of her students to make it happen.
"It's hard," she said of his departure. "But this is something he's expressed he's wanted to do. I'm extremely proud of him. I can deal with not hearing from him. The dangers are what worries me."
Just before Veterans Day, her students, along with others at the school, wrote more than 200 letters to send to Eric and those in his group.
"Dear Marine, Thank you for keeping our country safe! I really respect you," one says.
"Dear Marines, I would like to thank you all for supporting our country and for keeping it safe. I am thankful and appreciative that there is someone as strong and as brave as you serving our country," reads another.
Spurred on by their efforts, and with the knowledge that Eric is now living among Marines who won't be receiving mail or packages during their seven-month deployment, Elizabeth is starting a care package drive at the school.
Beginning Dec. 1, she will collect items the Marines can't purchase where they are located overseas: deodorant, shampoo, soap, playing cards, magazines and more.
During the holidays, Elizabeth said, "People want to give (to those in the military), but they don't know how to give."
This is one way people can say thanks and show their support. Elizabeth hopes to ship the care packages before the end of the year.
Eric is aware of Elizabeth's plans, she said.
"He hopes my efforts work out. While he himself will gets lots of stuff from my parents, his parents and me, he has people in his platoon who are 18-19 years old who don't have anything or anyone to send them stuff," she said. "It doesn't matter what's in it. It's just having something to open" that counts.
The students can make a personal connection to what they're doing. Before they wed, Eric, 24, talked to the students in Elizabeth's class about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and how 9/11 drove him to join in the Marines.
Elizabeth also uses military stories in her teaching. Right now, the students are studying the Civil War. One of their assignments is to think about what life would be like as a soldier then and today.
"Some of them see it as an important step in supporting their country," Elizabeth said.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune