Soldiers hang out with Panthers
May 14, 2008
WACO, Texas - The Soldiers walked into the entrance-way and looked up in awe. It took them a couple of minutes to take in the enormity of the complex even though they hail from one of the largest military installations in the United States.
More than 1,870 students, or Panthers, of Midway High School, in Waco, Texas, welcomed Soldiers from the 615th Aviation Support "Cold Steel" Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, during a visit to their school, May 9.
The Cold Steel Soldiers dropped by for a visit because while they were toiling away 24 hours a day in Iraq, they were showered with care packages from the Midway Panthers, said Utopia, Texas, native Sgt. Jenny VanPelt, an avionics mechanic for 615th ASB.
After receiving hundreds of shoe boxes filled with goodies, Cold Steel felt they needed to visit the Midway Panthers and tell them how grateful they were.
"The main reason for us to come up here today is to say thank you for all the support that you guys provided us while we were in Iraq," said Dallas, Texas, native Command Sgt. Maj. Glen Vela, Cold Steel's senior noncommissioned officer to the students.
After the Soldiers adjusted to their opulent surroundings, they were whisked off to the auditorium by next year's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps Cadet Commander Kelsey Spillers a junior from Waco, Texas and Cadet Executive Officer Justin LaMotte a junior from Baton Rouge, La.
Once inside the auditorium, they watched as the seats filled with hundreds of excited seniors. The rest of the school watched the presentation live on their closed-circuit television system - a first for the schools broadcast department, said Waco native Austin Sterling, the assistant principal.
"(They gave me) the warmest welcome I've received since I've been in the military. You can tell that they truly care about the Soldiers and that they are deeply moved by what we do," said VanPelt.
Vela introduced all the Soldiers that came along with him and then proceeded to teach the entire school a time-honored tradition of the Army.
"I wanted to teach you something so when you go away from here you're taking away something from this morning," he said.
"I'm going to teach you how to say 'hooah' and when to say 'hooah,'" said Vela.
'Hooah' is a positive slang term used by the Army. It can be used as a question, response or shout of motivation and more.
After describing how to say it, he tested the students by saying "hooah!"
The crowd responded with a "hooah" back.
That wasn't loud enough for Vela, so he engaged them one more time.
"HOOAH!" he yelled.
This time the senior class tripled their motivation and replied with an earsplitting 'hooah' of their own.
Vela smiled with satisfaction.
The Soldiers were impressed as well.
"They were extremely motivated. I was very surprised to see their motivation," said VanPelt.
After the Panthers calmed down, Carlsbad, N.M., native Spc. Alejandro Briceno, Vela's personal driver, recited the Soldier's Creed followed by Cumming, Ga., native Spc. Travis Cantrell, a joint network node operator for Cold Steel, who recited the NCO Creed.
"I found out that the NCO Creed is very long. He memorized it. That's a long creed!" said LaMotte.
Vela then schooled the motivated crowd a thing or two about the Army and, more specifically, the cavalry. He gave them a brief history of all the wars and campaigns the cavalry took part in as well as the humanitarian aide they provided to the areas struck by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the U.S. and the earthquakes in Pakistan.
He also explained why his Soldiers were wearing gold spurs.
"A little bit of history about our spurs ... in the Cav., you can wear two kinds of spurs - silver spurs and gold spurs. The person wearing the gold spurs has deployed to combat and served in combat with a cavalry unit," said Vela.
Silver spurs indicate the Soldier went through a rite of passage put together by their unit normally consisting of days of physical endurance activities.
Once the history lesson was complete, Vela presented Principal Sharron Zachry a certificate of achievement and a unit photo as tokens of appreciation for her school's support.
Coins for excellence were given to the students and teachers who went above and beyond the call of duty to get the boxes to the troops.
The current JROTC Cadet Commander Bobby Kutej, a senior from Waco, Texas, was one of the main students who headed up packing all the boxes.
"I enjoyed it. We're trying to get stuff to the Soldiers serving in Iraq and we wanted to help out," he said.
Kutej, not one to boast about his notable work, deferred to his fellow cadet, LaMotte.
"(There were) a ton of boxes. I didn't necessarily do the packing; it was (Kutej's) period, but the class that I was in ... sent 30 to 40 boxes just from our class," said LaMotte.
After the ceremony, Sterling escorted the Soldiers on a tour of the school's facilities.
"I was definitely impressed with the school; not with just the warm welcome that we received, but also with the facilities they showed us," said VanPelt.
The Soldiers also got to indulge in some cafeteria food which included numerous fast food chain selections.
While dining, cadets and students sat down with the Soldiers and talked about the Army and high school along with various other topics.
Many of the cadets want to pursue a long-term career in the military.
"I'm going to go to college and I'm going to try to get a commission in the Marine Corps," said Kutej.
"I'm sending my application and my SAT scores to the Air Force Academy," said LaMotte.
Once the meal was over, it was time to say goodbye to the Panthers.
The Soldiers left impressed by the students, their school and the entire visit.
"I was very impressed with the faculty and the students - they have a lot of really bright students," said VanPelt.
"We should visit them every Friday!" VanPelt added with a big grin.