More than 50 first-graders eagerly arrived at their school cafeteria on Friday – becoming more and more excited as nearly three dozen Army Signal Corps soldiers from Ft. Gordon greeted them with gentle warmth.

Kristen Sojourner, an Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School teacher, had arranged the program with Chaplin (Col.) Mark Thompson for the soldiers to meet with the children and have donuts.

“Anytime we have the opportunity to work with kids, we plant seeds,” Thompson said. “That's what we do.”

Sgt. Calvin Malone and Sgt. 1st Class Danny Hurst could easily relate to the children. Each has four children in the age range of these giddy kids who couldn't stop talking. The experience reminded Malone of home.

“We talked about the kind of donuts we liked and the kind of games,” he said. “They drew pictures for us, with 'thank you for the donuts' on some of them.”

Such school visits are always a great experience, Hurst said.

“You ask the kids about what they do, and they open up and tell you about themselves,” he said. “It's really a lot of fun, and we're proud that 34 of our folks came out today.”

The soldiers created paper airplanes with the children, who sailed them through the air over and over again.

“We had fun,” said first-grader Jaden Rouse. “We talked about soldiers doing the right thing.”

The school has hosted “Donuts for Dads” and similar programs for moms and grandparents, said Sojourner.

“That's a lot of fun,” she said, “but not all the dads can come. The kids look so sad about that.”

She talked with Thompson about the soldiers' appearance, that all the children would be certain of having somebody there with them.

“It also showed the kids that women can be soldiers too,” she said. “All the soldiers were seen as role models who could make those communication connections.”

Oakwood-Windsor does have great kids, and they were very engaged, Principal Debra McCord said.

The soldiers “were fabulous with them,” she said. “It was a huge deal for our kids to experience that. The soldiers traveled over an hour to get here this morning.”

Spc. Stephanie Rodriguez Morey enjoyed watching the children's smiles. She has a 1-year-old son, agreeing that the first-graders are giving her a glimpse of the future.

“It's always nice to volunteer,” Rodriguez Morey said. “The kids are so sweet. We talked about their brothers and sisters, and butterflies and flowers.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter.

Editor's note: An earlier edition of this story included a photograph of two solders who were identified incorrectly. They actually are Ashley Rohr and Tom Williamson. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.