DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. - Every year, students at select Catholic schools in the Metro Detroit area celebrate Catholic Schools Week. The theme for this years' event was service, as students got a break from their normal school day routines to learn about and participate in a variety of service activities.

The purpose of the week was to teach youngsters about the importance of service. By educating students about the many opportunities to give of their time, talent, and in some instances their treasure to help others, teachers hope to prepare them to become decent citizens and leaders of tomorrow. Students also learned about the deep satisfaction that is gained through selfless service to a cause greater than them.

In planning for the week-long event, Tina Forsythe, principal at St. Mary elementary and middle school in Mt. Clemens, MI, wanted to include a variety of activities that were both educational and morale boosting. For example, instead of wearing their regular dress code mandated clothes to school, students were allowed to don frivolous attire. Many students wore offbeat hats and shoes, shorts, and clothes representing their favorite sports teams.

While having some good natured fun was certainly important, the ultimate goal was to have the students participate in a number of service oriented activities. In keeping with this motif, Forsythe had the students prepare care packages for Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by collecting prepackaged snacks and personal care items.

Forsythe also had her staff contact the U.S. Army Garrison - Detroit Arsenal about having a Soldier come to the school and address the student body about military service. "The great sacrifices that members of our military and their families make to defend our freedom epitomize what service is really all about. I'd be hard pressed to think of better role models than members of the military for what we are trying to teach this week. That's why getting a Soldier to speak to our students was near the top of my list of things to do in planning the activities for the week," Forsythe said.

The Garrison put out a message to Soldiers stationed at the Detroit Arsenal asking for a volunteer to speak at the school. The first Soldier to respond was Noncommissioned Officer Sgt. 1st Class Barry Giles.

On the day that Giles was scheduled to speak, the school gymnasium was jam packed with over 400 enthusiastic students, faculty, staff, and a handful of parents. The atmosphere was electric, as most students were wearing clothes featuring one or more of the patriotic colors red, white, or blue. One youngster even dressed up in a Statue of Liberty outfit, while several others were spotted wearing oversized stovepipe Uncle Sam hats.

A group of students formed a color guard and marched into the gym with flags waving and America the Beautiful playing in the background. The students then sang a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, followed by a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Giles was joined by a contingent from the 127th Air National Guard Wing from Selfridge Air National Guard Base. When it was Giles' turn to speak, he told surprised students about all of the career opportunities available to them in the military, including medicine, computer science, and engineering. "For almost every career field in the civilian world, there are similar jobs in the military. The Army has engineers, doctors, nurses, scientists, computer specialists, and jobs in many other specialty fields," he said.

Giles went on to talk about the various positions that he has held during his military career. He had the full attention of the students when describing some of his experiences from the numerous countries around the world that he has had the opportunity to visit as a result of being in the Army.

Following his presentation, Giles had an engaging question and answer session with the students. Among the questions that the students asked were: Why did you join the Army' What are the opportunities for advancement in the Army' Have you ever been in combat' Have you shot or killed anybody in combat' Will you become a general' Have you been to Iraq'

In response to a final question of if he had to do it all over again, would he still join the Army, Giles replied that "I wouldn't change a thing. I love it. I love being in the Army and serving my country, and I would recommend this life to anyone who has a sincere interest in it."

All of the students stood and cheered loudly as Giles closed his remarks. Many approached him as they filed out of the gym and thanked him personally for his service to country.

In volunteering to speak to the students about his life in the Army, and by the personable and professional nature of his presentation, 1st Sgt. Giles did himself and his fellow NCOs proud.

Page last updated Fri February 27th, 2009 at 09:16