NEW BEDFORD — Nazarene Christian Academy fourth-grade student Juliana Gomes hugged her pen pal Friday morning.
Army Spc. Bryan Tolley, home on leave from a combat tour in Afghanistan, embraced Juliana, 9, outside the school's chapel, where the entire student body gathered to greet the 28-year-old infantry soldier.
"I came here to visit you and your classmates because you guys are awesome," said Tolley, a Plymouth native assigned to the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 1-182nd Infantry Regiment in Melrose.
Juliana and her classmates have been writing letters to the soldiers in Tolley's unit, which is deployed in Afghanistan.
Nazarene fourth-grade teacher Janice Lima, whose son, Benjamin Lima, is also assigned to Tolley's unit, said the students are honing their writing skills while also learning about the troops' sacrifices.
"The students learn things they wouldn't know otherwise. They get to learn who someone is and how important their letters are to these people," Lima said.
"It's a wonderful thing to have a pen pal," she added.
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