AURORA - When Candace Pollard first heard about the assignment, she didn't know what to think. The freshman at the Community College of Aurora didn't know how to go about it.
"I didn't want to do it honestly," Pollard said.
In Pollard's English 121 - Composition 1 class, Instructor Rachel Blue Ankney told her students to find the family of someone who died in a war and share their story. Ankney calls it "The Fallen Soldier Project."
"I wanted to them to have an opportunity to actually take their writing and make it bigger than just a class assignment," Ankney, full-time faculty member of English and Literature, said.
She wanted to challenge her students.
"My professor had told us about the assignment, and I thought she was crazy," Brenda Chavez, student, said. "To reach out to [families] and talk about their dead ones, that's not really comfortable."
Chavez writes in her essay, "My legs can barely hold me up from how nervous I was."
Pollard says she wasn't sure she was qualified.
"It's just my first year in college, and I felt like I wasn't experienced enough or a good enough writer," Pollard said.
But, as the students got over their fears and awkwardness of approaching the families of soldiers who died, students like Kathy Zamora started to become absorbed in the project. Zamora wrote about Army Spec. Javier Sanchez Jr. who died in Afghanistan.
"To find out about his life and how he was a soldier, I think it's important that people know that they're not just soldiers, and they have people who remember them," Zamora said.
Pollard wrote about Marine Cpl. David Sonka, a multi-purpose canine handler who died six months ago in Afghanistan along with his dog Flex.
Pollard writes in her essay, "I found that David Sonka did, in fact, have a very fulfilling and active life apart from his job. He wed his high school sweetheart Torey Nicole Sonka in 2009."
When Pollard contacted Torey Sonka, she says Sonka was happy to hear about the project.
"I thought it was really nice that they wanted to do a story and kind of remember not just David, but others," Torey Sonka said.
She says it's crucial people remember the men and women who died as more than those who fought for our country.
"They're more than just Marines or soldiers. They're people and students and dog-lovers," Torey Sonka said. "He's so much more than the just the stern pictures you will see of him."
Torey Sonka says the man she loves cherished family the most.
"When you break it down, you learn more about how everybody's different," Shannon McKay, student said.
McKay wrote about Army Spc. Daniel Carlson who died in Afghanistan.
"I was surprised how youthful Daniel was," she reads from her essay. "Have you ever met a person that was entirely forgiving, loyal, comedic, and gentle?"
But, as all the students in the class wrote about strangers, Phil Dizon wrote about a friend. Dizon wrote about Army Sgt. Jerry Evans who died in Afghanistan. Evans was Dizon's team leader.
"When I got out, I kinda tried to forget everything," Dizon, student and Army veteran, said.
When he wrote this essay, Dizon says it actually helped.
"It's really important to me to tell the story 'cause when I came back from Afghanistan, people didn't even know we were still over there," Dizon said.
Some of the people he's talking about are in this class.
McKay writes in her essay, "Funny, how I wrote this for you, now, it seems, in a weird way that I have actually written it for myself."
"I have a whole new perspective for soldiers out there," McKay said.
Pollard says she is like many of the people of her age.
"I, for one, take so much stuff for granted, and I don't stop to think about other people, much less the people who are overseas fighting for us," Pollard said.
Ankney says that's the whole point of this assignment.
"It's a learning process whether it's the actual writing itself or the stepping out of the comfort zone," Ankney said. "That's why we go to college. We go to college to grow up."
This is the first year of The Fallen Soldier Project at the Community College of Aurora. She says she plans to make it an annual assignment.
"I would hope for years to come they continue this project because it's just nice to know that people care," Torey Sonka said.
Pollard says this is an assignment that changed her.
"[David Sonka] was one year older than me, and he lost his life," Pollard said. "If anyone deserves to be remembered, it's them."
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