SERVICE AND OPPORTUNITY

SCMS pays tribute to community’s veterans
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski The Shawano AMVETS color guard marches in with the flags Friday morning as hundreds of SCMS students and community members watched.

Service was the main theme that resonated through Shawano Community Middle School’s Veterans Day ceremony Friday.

With Veterans Day falling on a Saturday, SCMS held its annual ceremony a day early to pay tribute to those who have and continue to fight for freedom.

The school’s associate principal, Rod Watson, noted that he and others in the community continue to serve in the military. On the weekends, Watson is a lieutenant with the 127th Infantry Division in Appleton.

“We hold this at the middle school on purpose because middle school is a great time for kids to think about how they want to serve,” Watson said. “At 12 or 13 years old, you start to discover what kind of person you want to be and what kind of path you want to take.

“There are lots of ways to serve, and lots of different types of service. You don’t have to serve in the military, but there are many ways to serve the community.”

Army Sgt. Richie Ford, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, told the students about his time in Afghanistan and noted that one of the wonderful things about serving in the military is that, once you’ve finished serving, you’re able to see the impact made by that service.

Ford said his first duty when he went into the Army was to serve as a drummer. As a member of the 101st Airborne Division, he got to travel all over Afghanistan and play songs from Metallica, Green Day and other groups for soldiers serving at bases and outposts.

One outpost they went to was deep in a war zone, and the soldiers serving there were eating the same two meals per day. Ford and his fellow soldiers were able to bring in food when they went to entertain the outpost troops, and the different choice of chow was well received, he said.

“It wasn’t anything special. I think there were hot dogs and hamburgers and fries and cookies, and you’re probably thinking ‘Big deal,’” Ford said. “Well, remember that they didn’t have any of this stuff, so it was a big deal to them. On top of that, we played some songs for them. Why? To give their minds a moment of rest from the incredible stress that they were involved in.”

The impact of what Ford did resonated a few months later when he ran into a combat medic, a sergeant first class, who had served at that outpost. The medic told Ford — a specialist at the time — that, before the performance, four soldiers had been killed, so the morale was a little shaky, but being able to hear music from back home made a difference in boosting spirits.

“You’re talking about somebody who had served 10-20 years, and I was fairly new,” Ford said. “On top of that, this was a medic who had served in a ranger battalion, and this guy knew what war looked like. In my mind, this was a war hero. Not me. That’s not me, and he’s looking at me and paying me that kind of compliment. I hold on to that. No one’s going to take that away from me.”

Ford told the students that his point was for them to serve their communities. It didn’t have to be in a military uniform, as long as it was something that would make a difference.

Several students wrote essays for the occasion and read them to the veterans. One of them, sixth-grade student Tristan Sheldon, explained the origin of Veterans Day from Armistice Day and why it was important to veterans.

“I would like say thank you to all of the veterans because they go off to fight so we can go to bed knowing we’ll all be safe,” Sheldon said. “I can’t imagine being a veteran and having to go war … I wouldn’t be able to do the things they do, because it takes a ton of courage going into war, knowing you might not return.”

Watson disagreed with Sheldon’s self-assessment, noting that “you’re braver than you give yourself credit for.”

Seventh-grade student Jenna Ainsworth noted that veterans fight for freedom, which translates to opportunity. Veterans give and sacrifice so the rest of the country can have opportunities to make their lives better, she said.

“We have the opportunity to make our world a better place, all thanks to our veterans,” Ainsworth said. “Opportunity might not seem like something worth fighting for, but when you look at some of the countries that don’t have opportunities like we do, you start feeling like maybe it is.”

Ainsworth cited Syria as an example, noting many children can’t get to their school because of the war currently taking place.

Veterans Day is not just to celebrate veterans, but to honor those closest to veterans, according to eighth-grade student Faith Lammers. She said many families have to sacrifice because someone they love is off serving in the Armed Forces for an extended period and not able to be home.

“Did you know there have been 22 million veterans since World War I? That means 22 million people fought for their country out of respect and love to protect the rights of citizens,” Lammers said.