By Sgt. First Class Victor Gardner, 189th Infantry Brigade, Division West, Public AffairsNovember 29, 2012
TRACEY, Calif. -- Veterans and service members all over the world were thanked for their contributions to the United States Nov. 11. Three days earlier, troops from 1-363rd Training Support Battalion, 189th Infantry Brigade, Division West, visited George Kelly Elementary School here in an effort to give back to the community.
Sgt. 1st Class Earnest Cornwell arranged for his unit to speak to the school's entire second grade class of 150 seven-year-olds. Cornwell choose to speak about the origin of Veterans Day and why it is he and his fellow Soldiers serve in the military.
Eight troops from the unit donned their Load Bearing Vests and Kevlar helmets, and took to the road in Humvees.
At the school, the students quickly took notice of the large, loud vehicles pulling up in front of the building. Some students stopped and stared, while others waved wildly in the excitement of seeing military service members.
Sgt. Ric Bareng said he felt like a rock star because of the greeting the troops received.
"The reception we received was amazing," said 1st Sgt. Ronald Payne of Milwaukee, Wis., first sergeant of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1-363rd Training Support Battalion. "To those kids, we were living, moving G.I. Joe action figures that they could touch."
Most children see the military, and people wearing a uniform, as role models, Payne added.
"We had an opportunity to show those kids that the Army doesn't just blow things up or kill people," Payne said. "We are caring people, just like their parents."
When the troops made their way to the school's auditorium, many students were at recess and rushed the Soldiers just to touch them and say hello. Many of the children saluted and said, "Thank you for your service."
"I missed those years of my child's life growing up, due to my constant deployments," said Payne, a veteran of several military operations. "This was what I missed about my child."
Payne said talking to a group of adults about his military service is different from talking to children.
"It was a great chance for us to share our experiences with those kids," Payne said. "In our jobs, we are trainers and mentors. If we can't mentor these kids, we have no business attempting to train and mentor Soldiers."
This event was one of many the unit plans to conduct, according to Capt. Juan Diaz, commander of 1-363rd HHD.
"Letting the community know what our unit does and what our individual jobs are helps to gain support from the community," Payne said. "This is just one way to 'pay it forward' for the things the community does for us here in the bay area."
During a question and answer session with the students, Payne said he was asked,"What is it you (Army) guys do?" His reply was simple and relatable to something a second grader would understand: "We go around the world fighting bullies and stopping them from bullying other people."
The children enjoyed trying on the Soldiers' helmets and other gear, Payne said.
"For an hour, the kids got to be Soldiers, marching them around and giving real Army commands," Payne said. "This excited them a lot, and I think they had fun."
The children also were able to sit inside a running Humvee and pretend to be a convoy commander for a few seconds each.
"We accomplished our commander's goal by becoming a community asset," Payne said. "Personally, I feel if we reached just one of those kids, we accomplished a bigger mission by positively impacting that kid.
"I look forward to being a bigger part in the community. We put our foot in the door, and we plan on maintaining this new-found relationship."