SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA, Japan (Nov. 16, 2021) – A class project in which students at Arnn Elementary here interviewed a group of military veterans the day before Veterans Day was meant to give them a deeper understanding of, and reverence for, the holiday, their teacher said.
Jami LeFebre, who teaches fourth grade at Arnn, observed Nov. 10 as her students, divided into groups in the school’s library, asked questions to the six invited veterans about their experiences and memories from serving in the military.
“I think it’s important for my students to know why we all get a day off from school for Veterans Day,” LeFebre said. “I really want them to understand why we celebrate the holiday, and to honor those who have worked in the military.”
The students took turns asking six different questions to the veteran seated with them, and then transcribed the answers onto their worksheet. Gasps of “Whoa!” and “Really?” punctuated the students’ writing as the veterans told them how long they had served in the military, where they had been stationed, and their favorite memory from their time in the service.
“The most interesting thing I think I learned is that [my veteran] got to fly over an active volcano in Hawaii,” said Cailyn Nelson, 9. “He was the pilot. Not many people get that opportunity, so I think that’s really cool.”
That pilot was Dale Jorgenson, who spent nine years as an active-duty Soldier, from 1983 to 1992, mostly flying UH-1 “Hueys” and UH-60 Black Hawks. Jorgenson now serves as the director of the Camp Zama Golf Course. He described the opportunity as “the highlight of [his] year,” saying it was fun to be around young people with so much energy and curiosity.
Jorgenson and the other veterans who participated did so after LeFebre asked Nicole Martinez, the school liaison officer for Child and Youth Services, to reach out to the Camp Zama community and ask if any veterans were interested. The six who eventually joined the event included former Soldiers and airmen, active-duty and reservists, and those with service that ranged from a few years to career retiree status.
William Carter, an Army retiree who served from 1981 to 2001 and who now works as an administrative assistant at the Camp Zama Youth Center, said he enjoyed being able to give the students some insight into his experiences as a veteran.
“[Talking to the students] brought back some old memories of when I first went into the Army,” Carter said. “The kids were quite interested as to how I got in to the Army, as well as my job as a [military police officer].”
Randy Benton, who served nine years in the Air Force and who is now the special events coordinator for Camp Zama’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said he was eager for the chance to give back to the military community by joining the project, and to let the students know how much his time in the Air Force impacted his life.
“This was the first time that I have been interviewed by kids,” Benton said. “They were very energetic and seemed intrigued by the answers I provided, as they asked for more details about each response.”
Beck Ingram, 9, said he learned from his interview that service members often get to travel around the world to places like Germany and Korea. He added that even though his father is a veteran, he was excited to hear the unique stories of other veterans about their careers and experiences.
And Beck had another, more personal, reason why he was looking forward to the interview.
“I think it’s important because I want to be a military when I grow up,” Beck said, “so I have to learn about what it’s like to be in the military and ... learn from other military people who were already in it.”
Leila Kaea, 9, said the most interesting thing she learned during the interview was the existence of a place she had never heard of before. Her veteran told her about the time he had been stationed at Camp Wildflecken, Germany, a former U.S. Army training base that was decommissioned in 1994.
After the interview, Leila said she had a newfound appreciation for Veterans Day.
“Veterans Day wasn’t too important to me when I was back at my old school because I wasn’t on a military base,” Leila said. “Now it’s super important to me because I got this opportunity to be on a military base.”
Beck agreed, saying, “I used to think, ‘Oh, it’s just a free day off from school,’ but then when I started talking to a veteran, I felt more deeply about Veterans Day.”
Following their interviews, the veterans thanked the students and said their goodbyes. LeFebre said the project “went way beyond [her] expectations.” It allowed her students to gain a larger picture of the military outside of what their parents do—to understand that “the military community extends past Zama; it extends past Japan,” LeFebre said.
“The students heard stories from Europe, they heard stories from Korea, they heard stories from the Americas,” LeFebre said. “They seemed so interested in what the veterans were saying, and they really seemed to enjoy the interview process. They were really engaged in listening, and I think their questions went beyond what was originally asked of them.”