Soldiers and representatives from the Natick Soldier Systems Center attended the Kennedy Middle School's 10th annual Veterans Day breakfast Nov. 9.

Students learned about the 40 or so veterans who were in attendance through the Morse Institute Library's Veterans Oral History Project ( The students researched the veterans on the website before they made posters to hand to them.

"I really think the event is important for our eighth-graders, because it gives them the chance to step outside of themselves and their daily routine to learn more about the world around them," said Suzanne Smith, an eighth-grade science and history teacher. "Sharing in conversation with those who lived through history is a much more engaging way to learn. The kids will always look back on this and remember these stories; I know I can't say the same thing about reading a textbook."

During the breakfast, the 140 eighth-grade students were able to ask questions of the veterans seated at their small group. A lot of the veterans shared stories and mementos with the students, some of whom even received pictures that they were allowed to keep.

"Having an education is so important," said Sadie Stepner, 98, a member of Natick High School's first graduating class in 1934. "I told these kids that they have a beautiful school and teachers that really care about them. If you need help, your teachers are there for you."

Stepner's youngest brother joined the Army when he was just 18 years old. While Stepner said her family did not want him to join, they knew he had to because "he wanted to win the war." Stepner and her family joined the community in supporting the war effort, personally baked and decorated cakes to sell, and helped her siblings and other students at the school when she could, too.

"She told us we were lucky to have the opportunity to go to school, and it's true," said student Jennifer Fossett. "That's not something I really thought about before."

Soldiers from Natick also spoke in small groups to students, sharing their experiences in basic training and in the Army in general. Both the Soldiers and students got a workout later on as they participated in Physical Training and drills similar to what a Soldier would go through.

It wasn't all fun and games after the breakfast, though, as students went from classroom to classroom learning about the technology behind the Soldier that Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center provides.

Mike Stepien and Brian Scott, both veterans who currently work at the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate, explained the Meals, Ready-to-Eat. Each student had the opportunity to taste an MRE, and in groups they helped each other pour water into a bag to allow the Flameless Ration Heater to heat up their meal.

When students learned about MREs, they also learned about the science behind them. Toward the end of their presentation, Scott asked the students what chemicals made up the FRH, to which an eighth-grader quickly replied, "Iron and magnesium!"

"We want to know the forces and changes that occur within the human body to find out what happens to the Soldier so that we can help the Soldier," said Leif Hasselquist, biomechanics engineer at NSRDEC, as he spoke to students about load carriage and the effects the armor and backpacks have on Soldiers' bodies.

Students then gathered in the hallway to get suited up with either a 35-pound vest or 40-pound backpack and helmet. After they put on their gear, they went through a mini obstacle course up and down the length of the hallway.

Many students commented on how heavy the equipment was, and when they were told they were carrying only approximately one-third the weight a Soldier carried, they were shocked.

After learning a little bit about the equipment Soldiers carry and the food Soldiers eat, all of the students were able to participate in Physical Training activities alongside Soldiers from NSSC.
Students and Soldiers broke up into smaller units and stretched before working out with their team. Each team had an individual who would compete on behalf of the team in activities such as push-ups, burpees, jumping jacks and lunges. During the competition, Soldiers, teachers and students cheered and supported each other.

"The Army really cares about making sure a Soldier is physically fit," said Spc. Rebecca Fant as she spoke to the group gathered in the gymnasium. Fant talked about the importance of stretching and making sure your body was ready for exercise and explained the different types of drills Soldiers have to complete for PT given their age bracket.

"typically the younger you are, the faster you have to be!"

"The afternoon with the Soldiers and scientists from the Natick Army Labs was a real treat," Smith said. "The eighth-graders were able to see and experience how our military has evolved over time. It highlights the amazing science, technology and engineering that goes into making things safer and easier to use for our Soldiers."

Several students from the middle school have participated in the Gains in Engineering, Math, and Science (GEMS program) at NSSC.

"They absolutely love it" Smith said. "It's nice for them to get to see examples of how what they learn in the classroom can be applied in the real world."

The day brought different members of the community together to share in history and history in the making. Students learned that Soldiers come in all sizes and ages and that they have families, friends and needs, just like everyone else.

"Before today, I thought that being in the Army was really scary and no way I'd ever do it," said student Samantha Barrow. "Now that I've heard about what it's really like and the different jobs people have, I realize that it doesn't have to be that scary. It's a noble cause and probably feels good to know that you helped your country."

Barrow later gave her veteran a poster she had made for him.

"I am really honored to get this, but no, I'm not a hero," said veteran James Flynn as he received the poster Barrow made for him.

"You fought in the war, you were in the Army, you're a hero," Barrow said simply in reply. "Thank you."

Page last updated Tue November 20th, 2012 at 08:23