By Kari HawkinsNovember 17, 2017
Appreciation to those serving in the U.S. military runs deep in the student body at Buckhorn Middle School.
Seventh and eighth grade students expressed their appreciation Nov. 9 to Soldiers visiting from the Aviation and Missile Command, honoring them in an early morning Veterans Day patriotic assembly, showing their respect and gratitude during classroom sessions, and sharing notes of thank you during the few minutes between classes.
In return, the Soldiers - 1st Sgt. Lachelle Wiggins, Sgt. Maj. Jon Martin, Capt. Quinton Watkins, Capt. Austin Cheng, Sgt. First Class Yolanda Hall, Capt. Justin Wax, Capt. Alexander De Rosa, Martha Foss and Col. Kelsey Smith - gave the students insight into what it means to serve in the military. They talked to six different classes of about 100 students each, discussion military career opportunities, traveling in the military, the uniform insignia, Army values and the sacrifices they've made to serve.
"We want to thank you for the warm welcome at the assembly," Wiggins told the students during a classroom session. "We know your pep rally roar comes from a special place. It means more to us than you can ever imagine. It's good to hear you clapping and giving appreciation to veterans."
Wiggins recalled her own path that led to military service.
"When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I didn't think I'd be a Soldier," she said.
"Maybe the military is for you, maybe it's not. But knowing what is available can help you make a better decision. You are never too young to go down the path to see what you want to do. When I got done with high school, college wasn't for me at that time. So, I joined the Army, learned a little more about myself and about leadership, and realized I was a pretty good Soldier."
The students were particularly interested in the different military careers and in the opportunity to travel as a servicemember.
"Most of us have lived around the world," Martin told students. "We've done lots of different things and served in jobs similar to jobs in the civilian workforce."
Martin's 30 years as an Army as an aircraft structural repairer have taken him to assignments in Germany, England, Poland and France, among other places in the world.
"All of us have different jobs - lawyer, military intelligence, aviator," added Watkins. "There are millions of jobs in the Army. You have it, the Army does it, and I've never had an inkling to do anything else but serve the country."
One of those jobs - serving in the legal arena as either a lawyer or a paralegal - was represented to the students by Cheng, an AMCOM Judge Advocate, and Hall, a paralegal.
"Even though I am an attorney for AMCOM, I've also learned how to march, how to fire a weapon, how to put on a gas mask, how to do pushups and sit ups, how to jump out of an airplane and land quickly," Cheng said. "The Army has also taught me skills that any lawyer needs - how to communicate, how to work on teams."
Hall, who's 16 years of service has included assignments in Korea, Kuwait and Afghanistan, not only enjoys her job, but said "it give me a great sense of pride to be a Soldier, and being a paralegal is something I've always wanted to do."
While the military does offer a wide range of career opportunities, the Soldiers emphasized the importance of doing well in school so that students can take advantage of all the military has to offer.
"We need a broad range of people with a variety of skill sets to serve in the Army," Wax told the students. "But it all starts with good grades in school."
Many Soldiers choose career fields they were unfamiliar with as middle school or high school students.
"Does anyone know what a Black Hawk helicopter pilot does? I didn't know what it was in the eighth grade," De Rosa said. "But, that's what I am now and it has taken me around the world to Germany, Afghanistan and Korea. There is a chance that you can do what you want to do in the Army."
Good scores in math, science and other school subjects translate into high performance in the military, the Soldiers said.
"To maintain a helicopter, you have to be precise," Martin said. "You don't want a mechanic guessing when they are working on a helicopter. What I learned as a student helped me to learn what I needed to know as an Army helicopter mechanic."
The AMCOM Soldiers shared both enlisted and officer experiences with the students, talking about the reasons behind joining the military and the challenges they faced in becoming Soldiers.
"Everyone who comes into the Army has a different story to tell, and that story starts when they join," Foss said. "But all of us, every Soldier, when we first come into the Army we go through training."
Though different journeys led them to the Army, each of the AMCOM Soldiers said that one of the reasons they joined the military was to serve the nation.
"I wanted to give back to my country because this country has meant me so much to me. I joined in 2003 during the Iraq war," Cheng said. "It's not just about what you can take and get in life. This country has been good for my family. My mom owns a shop in New York and my dad is a doctor. This country has given my family a lot."
Wax recalled seeing the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City on television. He, himself, was a student at the time.
"I thought 'This is going to change our world.' I cared about protecting our country. There's a lot of opportunity and freedom in our country. It's not perfect, but I wanted to defend that," he said.
The first priority for any Soldier is to protect the U.S. constitution, something that Soldiers learn during their first few months in the service, Smith told the students. Also through that training, Soldiers learn about Army values, leadership, teambuilding and other aspects about soldiering that grows bonds between Soldier and Soldier units.
"I love Soldiers and I love soldiering," Smith said. "It's a hard job. It's a challenging job. But it is also rewarding. We all abide by the same set of rules and we all have the same values, and we all know what it means to serve others before ourselves."
The hardest part of being a service member, the Soldiers agreed, are the separations from family during deployments, training and special assignments.
"We're veterans, but we are just like you," Watkins said. "We have families. We are called heroes because we have sacrificed so much. Our families have sacrificed a lot, too.
"It takes a lot of sacrifices to wear this uniform. We have made those sacrifices for you so that you can have the freedoms we have in this country - the freedom of speech, the freedom to worship, the freedom to go to school. The liberties that you have are because of people who sacrifice their life on a daily basis."