It’s a pretty safe bet that most staff and students at Big Woods Elementary would choose to put on a purple jersey over a green and gold one, but this Wednesday was an exception to the rule as the school welcomed back Brad Klein, a second-grade teacher and avid Green Bay Packers fan. Klein returned to his classroom after a three-week humanitarian mission with the Minnesota National Guard.
“I wish I had a camera to get some pictures of those new-found Packer fans,” Klein said with a laugh. “We definitely spread a little more cheer through Big Woods. Everybody felt like part of a winning team again. The joy was shared by all.”
Klein had only two days with his new group of second graders this year before he was deployed to the island of St. Thomas after they were hit by two hurricanes-Irma and Maria. Klein has been in the United States military for 18 years, the last 13 of those with the Minnesota National Guard. He traveled to the island with the 133rd Logistics Readiness Squadron as part of the 133rd Airlift Wing out of St. Paul, Minn.
Klein said this was his first real humanitarian relief deployment despite being deployed several other times throughout his years of service. While Puerto Rico is currently cornering the market on hurricane-related news coverage, Klein said other islands in the US Virgin Islands such as St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John have been devastated just as badly.
“They’re really all about the same,” Klein said. “They’re totally destroyed. The whole island [of St. Thomas] did not have power, did not have running water in most places. We were bringing in a lot of food, water and medical supplies.”
The unit worked with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to distribute humanitarian relief items, as well as the Tim Duncan Foundation. Tim Duncan is a NBA player for the San Antonio Spurs, and Klein said his foundation sent somewhere between 6 and 10 727 airplanes to St. Thomas, all loaded with food, diapers and other relief items. They brought the items to a Wal-Mart parking lot and handed them out to St. Thomas residents.
Klein said it was hard to see the devastation, and that he and his fellow squadron members felt frustrated there wasn’t more they could do to help the storm victims.
“We just wished there was more food and water we could have downloaded, more planes to work to bring that relief to those people,” Klein said. “It was disappointing not to be able to do more for them. But we did what we could.”
Klein said the Big Woods staff made it easy for him to be gone at a busy time of the school year, saying his long-term sub did an amazing job with the students and made it easy for him to transition back to work.
“She had the support of my amazing second grade team, who is an outstanding team to work with,” Klein said. “And a great group of kids too, so that makes it even easier.”
Big Woods Principal, Lee Brown, said the school has been inspired by Klein’s service and hopes to organize a school-wide civic program for hurricane victims based on his experience and advice.
“Our students are drawn to Brad’s good-natured personality, which allows him to build strong relationships,” Brown said. “We have fun bantering about the Packers, and Brad manages to convert many of his second-graders from Viking supporters to Packer backers.”