AUGUSTA, Ga. – Several veterans received a surprise visit filled with tokens of gratitude from a group of Fort Gordon Soldiers one day ahead of Veterans Day.
Sgt. Maj. Mark Schmitt, Training and Education Development Division (TEDD) sergeant major, U.S. Army Signal School, and De Neiya Goodly, chief of the Information Signal and Technology Branch, TEDD, coordinated with Dr. Yolanda Allen, parent facilitator at A. Dorothy Hains Elementary School in Augusta, Georgia, to show appreciation for school staff who previously served in the military.
Four teachers, a school counselor, and a volunteer were among those showered with heartfelt appreciation and handwritten cards during a brief mid-day break at the school on Nov. 10.
Goodly reached out to Schmitt after she and Allen, who are business partners, decided they wanted to do a something special this Veterans Day to honor those who continue to serve as educators. When Goodly asked Schmitt if he could find an NCO or two willing to do a presentation, Schmitt was happy to assist – and got five (including himself).
When asked why it was important for her to honor these veterans, Goodly said one reason was that people oftentimes seem to overlook Veterans Day.
“I feel as though right now we’re kind of excited about Thanksgiving and the holidays … so just to take a moment to show appreciation to the veterans … to really let them know they’re not forgotten,” she said.
Schmitt said he was honored the school invited them.
“I think it’s important for them to tell their story, I think it’s important to support them, and for us to be here to tell the Army story, and then as well to thank them for what they continue to do with the nation’s youth,” Schmitt said.
Judging by the smiles on the veterans’ faces, Goodly said she believes today’s gesture was well-received and hopes to do more like it in the future.
“These veterans served, and now those who are serving are reaching out to them to say, ‘Thank you for what you have done, and now here I am in your shoes … thank you for going before me and paving the way.’”
For at least one veteran-turned-teacher, the visit spoke volumes.
Retired Staff Sgt. Mark Villegas, a former military police officer who medically retired after about 13 years of service, said he doesn’t like “being fussed over” for having served, but that he also understands why people thank veterans.
“I understand how to other people it’s a big deal, but to me, it’s just something I did that I loved, and I’m thankful that I got a chance to do it,” Villegas said.
Now a STEM teacher at the elementary school, Villegas said he has no regrets about his military service – even after suffering an injury in Iraq that changed his life nearly two decades ago. One of his biggest takeaways from having served is to “not sweat the small stuff.”
“The military, especially after I got wounded, it made me look at everything differently,” he said. “When I was in, little things would kind of irritate me, and I really don’t get irritated anymore.”
And although he loves what he does now as an educator, Villegas said he never hesitates to recommend the military to anyone considering it.
“You’ll get something good out of it, whether you think you will or not, and whether you serve two weeks or 25 years,” he said.