Roosevelt Elementary outsources Web site maintenance to Iraq

When the staff and teachers at Willmar's Roosevelt Elementary School need to update the school's Internet site, it's a fairly simple process. They just send an e-mail to Iraq.

When the staff and teachers at Willmar's Roosevelt Elementary School need to update the school's Internet site, it's a fairly simple process. They just send an e-mail to Iraq.

The school's technology teacher, Jason Hultgren, is stationed there with the Minnesota National Guard. In his off-duty time, he updates and maintains the school's Web site and answers questions from students, in addition to keeping in touch with family and friends.

It's an effort by teachers, staff and students at Roosevelt to stay in touch with a well-liked teacher and colleague who's on the other side of the world. Students and staff members have packed and sent boxes of treats and letters of support Hultgren can share with other soldiers, and they recently made birthday cards for him.

"We're trying to make sure Jason is continually feeling a part of us," said Principal Patti Dols.

When Dols told the School Board about the arrangement last month, she referred to the arrangement as "outsourcing" the school's Web site maintenance to Iraq.


It's all done in the hope that the ongoing contact will help Hultgren ease his transition into civilian life when he returns from deployment. School officials are hopeful he will return before the end of the current school year.

In an e-mail interview, Hultgren expressed his appreciation for his friends' efforts.

"I love staying connected to my civilian job this way," he said. "It helps me to keep up with what is happening in the school back home and I don't feel like I am totally removed from them. Many times it is sad when I hear about something that is happening back home, and I can't be there. But I am still glad to know what is going on and enjoy reading e-mails from all my coworkers on the latest news."

Hultgren puts a fair amount of effort into it on his end, too. He revamped the Web site before school started, "to give it a new fresh look," he said.

Fifth-grade teacher Bonnie Hauser said not all of the students she has now met Hultgren before he left last year, but they will still benefit from his work.

He put some Internet links on the Roosevelt Web page for her, she said. Next winter, her students will be able to click on one of Hultgren's links to follow the Iditarod sled dog race.

If an e-mail is sent to the rest of the staff, it goes to Hultgren as well, "so he stays in touch," said Lois Shaw, a secretary in the school office.

Sixth-grade teacher Mark Stier is one of the teachers who corresponds with Hultgren regularly. They are hunting buddies and in the same fantasy football league. Their wives work together.


Hultgren was infamous among his colleagues for his love of Diet Mountain Dew. Stier has kept a bottle of the stuff in his classroom, awaiting its owner's return.

The staff is helping Hultgren look after his family, too. They sold blue rubber bracelets printed with stars and stripes at the school. The money they raised went into a special fund for Hultgren's family.

"We use it when he wants to do something for his family," Stier said. Hultgren gets in touch with him, and he takes care of gifts or flowers for special occasions, like an anniversary or the first day of school.

Hultgren has his ups and downs, which is to be expected with someone so far from home, Stier said. "You can tell by the sense of the e-mail if he's good," he added.

One time, Hultgren wrote that he missed camping, and said, "I really miss sitting on my butt in a lawn chair and watching the kids play."

"When I e-mail him I give him the local news off the top of my head," Stier said. Sometimes it's about a group of their friends going out for hot wings. Sometimes it's about sports or hunting.

Using instant messaging, Hultgren was even able to participate in the fantasy football draft. "He's been reigning champion for several years," Stier said. "He's still going to pull that off."

Teacher Carolyn Gripentrog said Hultgren is usually quick to respond to an e-mail from a student.


"He's so generous with his time," she said. "The students have a tremendous respect for him."

Gripentrog had trouble speaking about Hultgren without tearing up. He is also missed at Calvary Lutheran Church, where they are both members, she said.

In her classroom, Hultgren's name is posted near the flag, "so we think of him when we do the Pledge," she said.

Stier has a strong incentive to try to help his friend stay in touch with civilian life. He has a brother who served in Iraq a couple years ago, and he saw up close how difficult the transition can be.

When Hultgren returns to Roosevelt, he'll know who got married and who had kids or grandkids. "I think it's going to (help) in that you don't feel like you've been lost in time," Stier said. "You have your family, but you have your work family, too. Work family is what we try to keep him up on."

In an e-mail interview, Hultgren described a busy life of days spent preparing soldiers to escort supply convoys and evenings spent in the base's gym and on the Internet communicating with "my wonderful wife, Anne" and other family and friends. His mother has gone on the Internet for the first time, so she can stay in contact with her son.

The unit has purchased its own satellite Internet service, so they have Internet connections in their rooms.

Hultgren calls home at least once a week. "There is a bad delay that makes it hard to talk, but you get used to it," he wrote. "I have done some video webcams with my family. There is a bad delay there, too, and you usually have to restart the webcam a few times. But it is worth it to me to be able to see my family for a little bit."


The nine-hour time difference can make communication difficult sometimes. For the fantasy football draft, he got up at 3 a.m. to participate in the draft, which started at 6 p.m. locally.

Hultgren is a sergeant first class who has served in the National Guard for more than 20 years. He had planned on retiring in March, but the Guard put his retirement plans on hold when he was instead deployed to Iraq in March.

During most of his time in the military, he was a field artillery surveyor, providing exact locations for big guns so they could hit targets 10 miles away or more. In Iraq he is a platoon sergeant in charge of soldiers in convoy escort teams. He works mostly days and makes sure his soldiers are taken care of and have what they need for their next mission in 140-degree heat.

The convoys consist of 20 to 30 semi trucks carrying all types of supplies to U.S. bases around the country. Hultgren's soldiers drive the four Humvee gun trucks that usually escort the convoys. He makes sure the trucks have the proper maintenance, so they can make it through their missions without breaking down.

It's all very different from teaching school.

"I am very glad to be a part of the Roosevelt Elementary staff during this long deployment," Hultgren wrote. "To feel all that strong support at home that they have given me always makes it easier for me and everyone over here to continue doing our jobs while being so far away from home."

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