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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 28, 2010

On school supply maneuvers

 •  Big Isle veterans home survives — and thrives

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Fort Shafter's Brig. Gen. Alan Lynn read a story about a curious pig to the kindergarteners at Princess Ka'iulani Elementary School on Wednesday. He and other members of the 311th Signal Command also brought a truckload of school supplies.

Photos by LIANA MAYO | 113th Signal Command

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Student council president Jeanne Aquino pointed out to Lynn some highlights of a mural depicting the school’s history.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Student council members Harry Penh, Jeanne Aquino and Iwalani Suka helped give their military visitor a tour of the school.

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Brig. Gen. Alan Lynn, commanding general of the Army's 311th Signal Command at Fort Shafter, knows what it takes to establish communications under the most challenging of circumstances.

If it's on the front lines of a Middle East war zone, he knows the task requires the latest advances in combat dispatch technology.

If, however, it's in front of 75 kindergartners at Princess Ka'iulani Elementary School, he understands that the job demands something extraordinary:

Prestidigitation. Outright hocus pocus.

Thus, in the moments it took Lynn to introduce himself Wednesday morning to his squirming audience at the Kalihi school, he produced bouquets of flowers in thin air, made silk scarves materialize and disappear, and even made his thumb suddenly glow as bright as a Christmas tree bulb.

"Oh, magic!" gasped one child.

"He did magic!" exclaimed another.

"How do you do that?" one boy asked.

Once Lynn had the kids' attention, it was a simple matter to hold it through a reading of "Curious Kimo," a book about a mongoose, a toad, a mynah bird and Kimo the Pig — who learned the hard way why it's important to listen to one's mother.

But Lynn's main mission at the school Wednesday was to deliver supplies: pens, pencils, books, paper, backpacks — an entire truckload of school supplies.

The supplies were donated by the 311th soldiers and their families. It's part of a little tradition Lynn and his wife, Brook, started when he became leader of the 311th a year ago.

Ostensibly, it was a way for them to support the Army School Sponsorship Program, which works to enhance the learning experience for kids in Hawai'i.

On a personal level, Lynn also does it because the first time he ever laid eyes on Hawai'i — at the same age as the kids who listened to him read "Curious Kimo" — he saw the Islands as a most beautiful, magical place.

But there's more to it that that.

"Let me put it this way," Lynn said. "I grew up as an Army brat. Wherever the Army sends you — that's home. So, I don't have the same sense of home that most people do, where they'll say, 'I'm from this location, that's my hometown.'

"I grew up all over the world. And even though I didn't grow up in these schools, this still feels like home for me. This is my family."

So, instead having the hundreds of guests bring the usual gifts to the annual New Year's reception at the base Jan. 2, Lynn and his wife invited them to bring things school kids could use.

"We just asked that they bring school supplies instead of bottles of wine and that type of thing," Lynn said. "Every single one of them brought at least one (school) thing. Some people brought boxes of things."

For Lynn and nine members of the 311th who came with him to Ka'iulani, the morning began at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday with a tour of the school led by principal Thomas Moon and Ka'iulani Student Council leaders Jeanne Aquino, 10, Harry Penh, 11, Iwalani Suka, 10, and Janelle Nena, 10.

Along the way Lynn and company got a history lesson about the school's namesake, Princess Ka'iulani, heir to the throne, who was much beloved in Hawai'i. When she died in 1899 at age 23, the principal of Ka'iulani School acquired a slip from a banyan tree at 'Āinahau, the princess' magnificent summer home in Waikīkī.

As a young girl, Ka'iulani and her friend, famed author Robert Lewis Stevenson, would sit together beneath the shady banyan.

Now that 'Āinahau and the Waikīkī banyan are gone, the huge slip banyan planted on the school grounds more than a century ago stands as an iconic, living vestige of Hawai'i's royal past.

Lynn seemed astonished by the size of the banyan and the story about how it came to be. Now that he's part of the school family, he can share in the magic of that moment as well.