Delivering a baby. Children seeking candy. Flying the country’s leaders. On Friday, some veterans remembered some of the lighter moments of their service when talking with students. They also recalled the hardships of war.
In honor of Veterans Day, Mooresville Middle School hosted a Day of Courage, providing a number of veterans the opportunity to share their personal stories with the students.
Held Nov. 8, there were two sessions allotted, with the seventh graders hearing the veterans in the morning and the eighth grade students had the chance to hear some stories during the afternoon sessions as the veterans rotated from room to room.
Some of the veterans sharing their experiences during the morning session included Jim Kiger, Isaac Smith, Don Blake, Rick Karriker, Jim Cash and Steve Prichard.
Each of the veterans shared the branch they served in and some of their duties. Kiger served in the U.S. Air Force and said he was a police officer for the branch; Smith was in the U.S. Army and was a Ranger; Don Blake served in the U.S. Army where he became a medical corpsman; Karriker was an infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps; Cash was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force; and Prichard trained for combat and drove convoys as he served in the U.S. Army.
While each served at different times and places including in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, one common thread ran through each story: the importance of friendship during their time in the military.
Kiger said it was “beyond friendship, it’s a brotherhood. You have to be close,” as those serving together depend on each other and look out for each other, he said.
Smith said the friendships were both the best and worst things about his time in the military. The worst being that you lose your friends either as they are transferred or leave and the best being, these friends are “friends for life.”
Cash said that when you “flew missions, you became very tight, close-knit friends.”
Prichard likewise noted the close friends he met while in the military as he shared this is where you learn “loyalty and family.”
Being in the military taught them life lessons which they passed along to the students. This is a “job unlike anything you have ever seen. You work as a team,” Kiger told them. He also told them that if he were called back by the president today to serve, he would go.
Smith echoed this comment as he told about his time in basic training when he said here you have these people “yelling at you, but they are doing that to help you focus not on ‘me’, but us, ‘the team’.” A fifth generation serving in the military, Smith also said that during his deployment he saw the conditions of where he was at and was grateful for clean water, etc., and had to learn to think about others who don’t have what you have.
Blake, who was drafted, told of his basic training days and how, during inspection of the barracks, it taught him discipline and the importance of doing things right and doing them right the first time. Told that he would become a medic, not a job he wanted, he was told he better not flunk. He soon realized the importance of taking the classes seriously and worked hard. Blake passed that message to the students as he said “work hard, you can be whatever you want to be.”
Karriker relayed stories about his graduating from Parris Island and becoming an infantryman and being selected for the Marine Corps drill team and the dedication of practicing 16 hours a day and keeping up that hard work.
The importance of education and the fact that when you finish school, your education doesn’t end, was the message that Cash told the classes, and this is the case “no matter what field you go into,” he said.
Cash’s wife Terry was there and told how proud she was of her husband and how she learned that supporting on the home front was a way that she herself could serve.
Learning the lesson of self-confidence is one Prichard shared with the classes. Trained to “run to enemy fire and to become warriors and take care of the threat, teaches you to take something on. This teaches self-confidence, and when you get out, it will make you a better person,” he said.
While the rigors of military service were evident from their stories, there were still fun times that they shared. And as they did, their eyes lit up with laughter and memories.
Kiger said that one of the most amazing things he did in the service was to deliver a baby in his patrol car. This baby, who was named after him, has now himself enlisted in the Air Force.
Prichard’s story was one he remembers from a time when he was driving a convoy in Iraq. It was during this time that he noticed a little Iraqi girl, probably around 6 years old. She was running alongside the Humvee and yelling out, “mister, mister,” probably wanting some chocolates, which the children often received from the servicemen. Unaware that a stop sign was in her path, she ran head on into it. He told the kids that wasn’t the funny part of the story; however, the funny, amazing part was that she was tough and got right back up and took off running alongside the Humvee once again as if nothing happened.
Flying five different types of planes during his 21 years of service, Cash shared that his favorite one was the Air Force 2 707 and the opportunity to fly vice presidents and other officials around the world.
The men varied as to what motivated them to join in the military, with stories ranging from Blake being drafted and not given the choice, to Cash saying he always had a fascination with planes and wanted to fly and the Air Force gave him that opportunity. Family tradition was evident in both Smith and Prichard’s experiences. And Karriker noted that even as a little boy he played war and didn’t want to go to college, but instead wanted to join the military.
After each veteran shared his story, he was thanked for his service and for coming to share with the students and staff. Blake in return thanked the students. He said it was a “thrill that he got the opportunity to serve and thank you, thank you that you haven’t forgotten.”