When the Air Force airman is serving in Kuwait or stationed in the U.S., thinking of his home and family in Greenwood is one of the things that keeps him motivated.
Brian Whitlow thinks of his family, his parents still in Greenwood and his brother, Eric, who is serving as a Marine.
For the last few months, students from his local elementary school have been on his mind too, as they’ve sent him letters and packages.
Karen Gutsch’s second-grade class at North Grove Elementary School adopted Whitlow and his brother, and have been sending them packages and notes. Last school year her class also sent the brothers packages.
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On Thursday, Brian Whitlow got to meet his new little friends. He visited North Grove while visiting his family and thanked the students. They also got to learn about his life in the military. He recently returned from Kuwait.
“It means a lot, when a lot of times, you have nothing going on,” he said. “When I’m over there, the only thing that keeps me going is my family.”
Whitlow was a student at North Grove Elementary School and grew up in Greenwood. He graduated from Center Grove High School and was in the school’s marching band, where Gutsch was his “box mom,” and he helped her son in marching band and led him to his classes.
That bond helped Gutsch connect with the Whitlows when she was looking for people in the armed forces for her class to adopt, she said.
She wanted her students to learn about service to others and what patriotism means, she said.
“The military is near and dear to my heart, and I feel the country doesn’t appreciate the military as they should,” she said. “I feel like it is an obligation to support our troops.”
Students in this class have sent Whitlow letters with hand drawn pictures of tanks, planes and guns. They made American flags out of construction paper that they are sending to him.
When he visited their classroom Thursday, he received a hero’s welcome.
Students waited outside next to the flagpole for his arrival. They raised an Air Force flag to fly just under the American flag at their school.
When Whitlow walked into the classroom, he was greeted with a salute from every child.
Gutsch created a presentation with photos of him in basic training and showed students on a map where Kuwait was. Cub Scouts in her class folded an Air Force flag and presented it to the airman. He gave each student a toy soldier.
Students got the chance to pepper Whitlow with questions. He told them what the medals on his shirt mean and how he got his shoes so shiny.
And he told them what he does in the Air Force, working on the electrical systems on planes and how he originally wanted to be a fighter pilot, but his six-foot-five frame precluded him from being able to become a pilot.
Whitlow just returned from Kuwait and is now based in Tucson, Arizona.
Gutsch told her students that getting to meet a person serving in the military that they’ve been writing to is rare and that they should appreciate the chance, she said.
Student Jaxon Onstott realized the importance of having Whitlow visit their class.
“We might never get to see him again,” he said. “We might never get a soldier to our class again.”