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Lincoln sends care package to Marine

January 16, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

He's a long way from home, but a care package put together this week by students and staff at Lincoln Elementary School in El Centro should ease the homesick blues just a little for U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jose Quijada.

Born and raised in the Imperial Valley, Quijada is serving aboard the USS Peleliu, which was diverted to the Middle East from a routine six-month Pacific region tour of duty in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The 23-year-old spent several summers volunteering at Lincoln before deciding to enlist in the Marines. He was a popular fixture on campus.

Even after enlisting, Quijada would return periodically to the school to talk to students about his career in the military.

Tuesday afternoon Lincoln Principal Michael Minnix, third-grade teacher Karol McNeer and fourth-graders Alyssa Avelar and Vincent Valenzuela gathered in a classroom to put the finishing touches on the large box full of students' letters and food treats that would soon be on its way to Quijada, who is deployed in Afghanistan.

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Minnix estimated there were more than 150 letters from students in the box that also contained beef jerky, sunflower seeds and two varieties of cookies from Quijada's favorite Chinese restaurant in El Centro.

Smiling, Minnix said he'd slipped two AutoTrader magazines into the box as another happy reminder of home because "he got his first truck by looking through that magazine," Minnix said.

These days one of the first things visitors to Lincoln elementary see is an 8-by-5 foot banner in patriotic colors that proclaims "Our Hero, Jose Quijada — School Volunteer Supporting Our Country Overseas."

Quijada's family relocated to Arizona in August and in a telephone interview from Phoenix on Tuesday evening, his mother, Virginia Quijada, spoke of feeling "happy and thankful" for the way Lincoln students and staff were showing their appreciation of her son and the work he did at their school as a volunteer.

Virginia Quijada said she had spoken to her son by telephone a number of times since his ship left San Diego but there were periods when he was unable to contact his family. Close to tears, she related how there was a period of seven weeks in which she did not hear from Jose.

"It was very difficult for the whole family and we would watch the TV news every night and read the papers hoping to understand what was going on over there," she said.

Minnix spoke of the value for his students to be involved in sending the care package to Quijada.

"… that our students could do something by recognizing and honoring Jose by mailing him letters. That they are thinking of him and all the other people fighting for our country is a valuable lesson."

Quijada is expected home in late February and his younger brother, Eric, will be flying to Honolulu to meet the USS Peleliu when it docks there briefly before returning to its San Diego home port.

Eric will join his brother on the ship under the Operation Tiger Cruise program, which allows a family member to accompany an active duty relative on the last leg into the ship's home port.

The program is designed as a morale booster for sailors and as a way of helping family members understand military life.

You can follow Quijada's journey home by logging onto his ship's Web site at www.peleliu.navy.mil

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or dingo87@earthlink.net

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