ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - The Churchville Elementary School held its annual Fifth Grade Patriot Assembly on Thursday, May 24 where 45 students were recognized for meeting the requirements to become Patriots. The keynote speaker for the assembly was Capt. Thornton Ray, the operations officer (S-3) for the 1st Area Medical Laboratory located on Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In order to achieve the title of Patriot the students had to meet many requirements including multiple quizzes on geographical facts about Maryland and the United States, the pledge of allegiance, flag etiquette, Maryland state facts, government officials, and branches of government; composing a two-page report on a famous patriot; volunteering for a minimum of 3 hours of community service and creating a poster detailing their service; and choosing a six-hour project ranging from memorizing and reciting the Gettysburg Address, identifying all 50 states on a blank map, creating a model of a historic place or event of significance with a one-page paper describing the significance of the model, or planning, designing and creating a personal U.S. flag with a one-page paper describing the flag.

"I was impressed by how students could tailor the program to their interests," said Ray, a medical service corps officer who resides from Chester, Va. "They chose between different projects and used the projects to learn more about what interested them. The result was several impressive dioramas, kids learning the Gettysburg address by heart, and more."

Alicia Pembroke, a fifth-grader in Mrs. Powlowicz' class, who chose to recite the Gettysburg Address for her 6-hour project said the Patriot Program was important "because it gives students a chance to learn about people who represent them and their country."

Ray shared, "My favorite part [of the assembly] was seeing all the children present their projects and listening to them sing the national anthem - I've never heard a more angelic rendition."

Another student, Jack Geyer, who is in Mrs. Hugo's fifth grade class, chose to write a Patriot report on Jenny Wade, the only civilian killed during the battle of Gettysburg, and volunteered to provide food for the homeless.

When he was asked why he chose to volunteer he said, "Because it makes our community better and it makes them feel happy and comfortable and welcome.

"It also made me feel better."

During his speech, Capt. Ray talked about being a patriot and the importance of being a good citizen by voting, getting to know your neighbor and helping others. He also shared some personal stories about school and ensured the fifth graders not to worry about middle school or getting shoved into lockers. At the end of his speech he invited the students to take a selfie with him.

Pembroke and Geyer both enjoyed the assembly and said they would encourage younger students to participate in the Patriot Program.

"It is something you have to work hard for and the work pays off," said Geyer.

"I would tell them to definitely do it, it is a great opportunity and you should definitely put the work in," agreed Pembroke.

After the assembly Ray talked about the importance of the partnership between his higher headquarters, the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, and the elementary school and why he volunteered to speak at the Patriot Assembly, "Part of the Army's definition of Leadership is 'improving the organization', so events like these inspire children to join the military. They also bridge the civilian-military divide which helps people know those who defend them and reminds the military what they're defending."