When sailors patroling the Persian Gulf on the frigate USS Aubrey Fitch had mail call one day before Christmas last year they didn't expect to get a stack of handmade cards from Hannah Holbrook Elementary second-graders.

Wednesday, Betty Huntington's class got a surprise of its own as Shane Cook, a fire-control technician third class on leave to his home in Layton, returned signed postcards from the crew members and thanks for brightening the lonely holidays at sea."When we got the letters it made it a little bit happier because it was during the holidays," Cook told the class as he explained the parts of his ship pictured on the postcards.

Huntington decided to have her students send cards after her daughter read about the "Adopt-A-Ship" program in an armed forces magazine. Huntington wrote to the organizers and arranged to write to the crew of the Fitch.

The students designed their own cards and sent them airmail in November so they would get to the ship in time for Christmas.

"I did a big ship with men on it," said Brad Davis, who drew himself in as a sailor and told his teacher he wanted to be one when he grew up.

"The ship's commander sent us a plaque and wrote us a really nice letter and said how the crew really appreciated them," Huntington said. "Some hung the cards in their lockers and their work spaces. Some of the men are married and it reminded them of their own children."

She said as soon as the students received the plaque and read the letter they wanted to write again. The students sent cards for Valentine's Day.

"The commander didn't tell us that he had any crew members from Utah," said Huntington, who was also surprised by Cook's visit.

During his visit, the students quizzed Cook about everything from the food crew members eat to whether there were "girl sailors" on board. Cook said the ship's food was pretty good and that women aren't assigned to combat-ready ships that patrol the Persian Gulf.

The students giggled about the cafeteria being called the "mess."

"When you wrote us we were in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf escorting civilian ships," Cook said.

Cook explained that during its recent six months at sea 220 men were on board the ship because it was assigned two patrol helicopters and their crews. He said the ship specializes in anti-submarine warfare. The ship usually carries 180 men.

He also told the children that the ship was named for Adm. Aubrey Fitch, and four stars on the ships crest represent the rank he attained. He also explained the ship's code name was the "Fighting Lady."

The students were amazed when he explained the ship was 445 feet long - longer than a football field.

"Do you sleep in separate rooms," asked one girl.

Cook said the sailors sleep in narrow bunks three deep.

"How far do you travel in a day?" asked another student.

About the distance from Bountiful to St. George, he said. Cook said he operated missile-firing systems and guns on the ship. He said the ship, which is stationed in Florida, took a month to get to and return from the Persian Gulf.

Ryan Cook, who was proud of the fact he shared the same name as the sailor said "he liked it" when asked what he thought about the visit.