FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Future service members from high schools across South-Central Missouri were honored for their commitment to serve their country at the Community Salute to Service event, held the evening of May 11 at Waynesville High School.
In attendance — and acting as keynote speaker — was Missouri Governor Mike Parson. Also providing remarks were Commanding General of the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood Maj. Gen. James Bonner, and Adjutant General of the Missouri National Guard Maj. Gen. Levon Cumpton.
Additionally on stage from Fort Leonard Wood to recognize the students were Marine Corps Col. Charles Long, Marine Corps Detachment commanding officer; Navy Lt. Joshua Lamb, Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Detachment officer in charge; and Air Force Capt. Jared Hafich, U.S. Air Force Security Forces liaison officer to the U.S. Army Military Police School.
Fort Leonard Wood’s 399th Army Band performed live music, including the national anthem and the Armed Forces Medley, and WHS’s Junior ROTC drill team posted the colors.
Waynesville R-VI School District Superintendent Dr. Brian Henry opened the event by listing for the students and their families watching in person and online the influential and important leaders who gave their time to attend.
“These individuals are here to honor you for your willingness to raise your hand to serve and protect our great nation,” he said.
Bonner called the Community Salute to Service one of the most special events in the region.
“Thank you for this opportunity to celebrate these young Americans,” he said.
To the parents and family members of the future service members, Bonner said, “you must be very proud.”
“Your children are in this position because of you,” he continued. “You have given your time, care and love. You have taught your children values, leading to pride in country, resilience, determination and service. You’ve encouraged them every step of the way, and set the foundations for their success. You have invested in them, and now they are further investing in themselves as they serve this grateful nation.”
Cumpton said his service has always given him hope.
“And when you have hope in something bigger than yourself, you can accomplish anything,” he said. “In this way, service is powerful. I’m incredibly proud of you for making this commitment to our country. You may feel unprepared for this next step — there are a lot of unknowns. I understand that, but I ask you to embrace the unknown and have confidence in your ability to succeed. Forge every day with confidence. Allow this new sense of purpose to drive you forward and you will achieve great success.”
Cumpton noted the motto of the Missouri National Guard is “One Team,” and everyone who decides to serve their country becomes a member of the military family.
“I love this motto because one of the best aspects of military service is gaining an enormous new support group,” he said.
Parson, who served in the Army for six years, said, “you never know where life’s journey is going to take you.”
“If I had not served my country, I would not be in front of you today,” he said. “And I’m going to guess — if you talk to every person in uniform, or that has worn the uniform, they would tell you the same thing — how much it changes your life. And I will tell you, it changes for the better, because when you do something for other people you’re never going to meet; you’re never going to see; you’re never going to know — that’s the ultimate public servant.”
Parson also spoke about the generations of service members who came before, and how that legacy of service plays a role in the lives of those who continue to volunteer to serve today and in the future.
“It wasn’t about me, and it won’t be about you,” he said. “It’ll be about all the people that wore the uniform before you did, and the sacrifices they made in our country, and that they continue to make today. If the American dream is to stay alive, it will stay alive through you. You’re the only ones who can do that because you’re willing to sign on the dotted line; you’re willing to put on a uniform; and you’re willing to take these men and women’s place that are here tonight.”
The group of future service members being honored represented each of the services, including one WHS senior joining the newest branch, the Space Force.
Travis Novak, who leaves for Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in early summer — Space Force initial training is still integrated with the Air Force — said he found a love of science in high school, and he looks forward to continuing his education while working in space systems operations. He said his goal is to eventually become a commissioned officer in the Space Force.
“Just being able to further my knowledge while being able to serve my country — that really appealed to me,” he said. “Hearing about the Space Force, and how new it was, I just thought I wanted to get my foot in the door.”
One of the group of future Soldiers at the event, Elijah Jakosalem, is originally from the Philippines, and is about to graduate from Rolla High School, in Rolla, Missouri. He signed up to be a parachute rigger because he said he wants to attend Army Airborne School, “and it looked like a fun job.”
“I’ve always just wanted to serve,” he said.
Jakosalem said it’s really nice to receive this recognition of his decision.
“Usually in school, awards are only for academics,” he said. “I think service in the military is just as important as academics because if no one does it, than who will?”