ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - The St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in Aberdeen, Maryland, held their Patriot Day Ceremony on Wednesday Sept. 11 and invited an officer from the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command and an officer from the Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MTAP) to speak to the students about the importance of service.
President Bush designated September 11th as Patriot Day, on Dec. 18, 2001. In 2009, Congress designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.
"The importance of Patriot Day for our School is for the teachers, parents, and students to remember those who fell on 9/11 and to recognize and thank our military, police, firemen and first responders who protect our way of life and nation," said Ray Van Pelt, a Deacon assigned to St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and former deputy to the commander - support, 20th CBRNE Command. "I believe our school has been observing Patriot Day since its inception in 2012."
The school has strong military ties, approximately 20 percent of the student population is from nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground. The audience included students, local law enforcement and first responders, and parents, many of whom were in uniform.
"This is something that should not be forgotten," said Madison Mayo, a seventh grader in Ms. Reuling's class, who was chosen to read her essay on service at the ceremony. "We need to come together to honor those whose lives were cut short, eventually everyone who was alive that day will be gone, that is why we have to make it important to keep the memory alive."
The first speaker of the day was Lt. Kevin Ayd, the acting commander for the tactical command, MTAP, who emphasized the importance of Patriot Day and the significance of public service.
"9/11 is an important part of our country's history and children should know about the impact those attacks had," said Ayd. "Today I hope the children learned that it is important to remember and celebrate those lives that were lost on 9/11.
"Speaking at today's ceremony was [also] an opportunity to speak about public service and the difference you can make from serving," he continued.
Margo McCarthy, a sixth grader in Ms. Barberry's class, who was also chosen to read her essay on service at the ceremony, shared her thoughts on service.
"It is important to have service in our community, especially if you have a personal history with people who help us like a police officer or a fireman who dedicate their life to service," said McCarthy. "You can dedicate a few minutes to service when there are people dedicating their life to service."
Col. Adam Hilburgh, the chief of staff for the 20th CBRNE Command, is part of a long line of public servants - members of his family have served in every major conflict since the "Great War." He spoke about the importance of serving something greater than yourself and how Sept. 11 changed his life.
"September 11, 2001, was the most important day in my life. Everything changed that day - not only for me, but for everyone who experienced it," said Hilburgh, a native of New York. "That day made it clear that I and others would be serving our country during a time of war."
Hilburgh made a conscious decision to wear his operational camouflage pattern (OCP) Army Combat Uniform (ACU) and talked about the significance of the uniform to the students during the ceremony.
He explained that the flag is in the highest position of honor on the right side with the flag's blue stars facing forward.
"Do you know why the flag is facing back?" he asked the students. "Because Soldiers always move forward - Just like all the firemen, police officers and first responders who chose to enter the burning buildings to rescue fellow Americans 17 years ago today - they choose to serve our country and protect others from harm.
"The patch on a Soldier's right shoulder underneath the flag means they have deployed and served in combat. If you look around, you will see many different patches on the Soldiers that are here today. Finally, look at what we wear over our heart, it is not our name, but it is a testament to our service...it reads U.S. Army."
"We take this day to remember those who sacrificed everything and we can honor those American heroes best through volunteering and service to our fellow Americans," he explained.
Not everyone is going to be a member of the military, a policeman, a fireman or first responder, but everyone can make a difference through service.
"Even though military and other public servants are very important, we can all put a little effort into improving the way America is," said Mayo, whose mother is Master Sgt. Teresa Mayo from Wilson, North Carolina and is currently assigned to the 20th CBRNE Command. "Even just going around volunteering is important - One small act of service can go a long way."
Students sang several patriotic songs throughout the ceremony and learned the significance of Patriot Day.
"It is important for the kids to learn about 9/11 so that they can appreciate the sacrifice of those who have served, to understand a bit of 'the cost of freedom' and the debt we owe those who gave their lives protecting our nation and way of life," said Van Pelt.