RRMR senior students putting final touches on 19th annual Veterans Day program
By Kelly Terpstra, firstname.lastname@example.org
Some students were just babies, born months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Other members of the RRMR High School Class of 2020 were not even born yet as the attacks on American soil unfolded.
Many of the students in Kent Shultz’s government class are finding out more about that time period in American history almost two decades ago that ended up affecting millions of veterans of the United States military – both emotionally and physically.
The 28 high school seniors are learning about the heroes who served their country, many making the ultimate sacrifice.
Those lessons are also being taught through a community services program following a Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock tradition that will continue next week.
The senior class is planning, preparing and putting the final touches on another Veterans Day program, this one to be held at 10 a.m. Monday in the Warrior gymnasium in Rockford.
“It’s the one time of the year where they can just come, not really relive their past, but remember it,” RRMR senior Madison Linderman said about veterans. “It’s very real.”
Shortly after those 9/11 attacks took place, Shultz implemented the idea for students to band together and work to honor veterans with a program.
“I actually got the idea from some of the veteran teachers who were talking in the lounge, wishing we had a little bit more,” said Shultz about expanding Veterans Day ceremonies to honor those that served in the military.
He explained what the 2001 RRMR Veterans Day program was like with the thought of the terrorist attacks still fresh in the minds of the students back then and in the community.
“It was a little more charged. It was a pretty small program at that time,” said Shultz.
RRMR students start working on the project in September, shortly after the new school year starts. At least once or twice a week, all of the members of the senior class will work on some portion of what has transformed into two different veterans day programs over the years — a shorter one for elementary school students usually held during the week, and the other program for older students and the community.
This is the first year the class has been split in half to work on each program.
“It started pretty small. It’s really evolved,” said Shultz. “We used to just pull out one side of the bleachers and invite our junior high and high school kids. Of course we were a bigger school then. We’d set some chairs up front for veterans. Now we use the entire gym. Our community crowd has grown.”
The main program’s theme this year is “honor.” Students have worked hard to organize and put together videos, slideshows and presentations that will be dedicated to the many veterans in attendance.
“It’s cool that we get to put it on this year because we’ve always been looking forward to how we want to do it. We’re glad that we can provide that for them so they can be honored,” said senior Amber Reams.
The RRMR band and choir will perform. A meal will be served to veterans after the ceremony is over.
“The other thing I’m looking for is just the responsibility side. I kind of set the parameters, but let them go,” said Shultz.
The program can be an emotional moment for not only veterans, but anyone in attendance.
“I remember so many veterans crying,” said senior Kyra Nobbs.
Sierra Kuhlers, another senior group leader who is working on getting all the details ironed for the program, said a lot of the messages brought forth in the ceremony speak to the entire veterans group as a whole. She thought the powerful messages presented at the program could also be enjoyed on a personal level as well.
“When our program goes on, we want everybody individually to feel something throughout it, not just like as a group,” said Kuhlers.
This year’s guest speaker is Steve Howell, age 65, a 1972 Rockford High School graduate who served in the Army Reserve for 20 years from 1983 until 2003. He was also a member of the 133rd Infantry Regiment of the National Guard that used to be stationed out of Hampton. The Armory unit joined the main body of Company C in 2004 with a regiment from Iowa Falls, where members now train.
After Howell got out of the infantry, he joined the Army’s 415th Military Police Detachment, located in Pocahontas. Upon federal orders, that detachment was sent to areas across the country like Texas and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after the 9/11 attacks. Members of the military police helped guard the nation from other possible terrorist attacks as the United States was on heightened alert.
“We reported in 24 hours and we shipped in 48 hours,” said Howell. “The first 90 days, there wasn’t a day off and we worked over 100 hours a week.”
Howell remembers many key moments in his military career. He thought he had a very realistic chance of being sent to Iraq to fight in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He was ordered to report to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he would gear up and wait for possible deployment to fight in the Gulf War. The Army post at Fort Benning, which holds more than 120,000 active military members, was where he first trained in the Army Reserve.
“I went down to Fort Benning for the second time because we were anticipating 25,000 casualties in Desert Storm,” said Howell. “We figured we would get orders in 72 hours in Day 3. The war ended in 100 hours.”
Howell said he was tired of waiting on the sidelines and was more than ready to see action on the battlefield to defend his country at that particular time in his life.
“Silly me, I was looking forward to going,” said Howell. “People questioned, why would you do that? It’s like being on the football team. You sit on the bench and sit on the bench and sit on the bench. You practice and practice but you never … it’s disheartening,” said Howell.
Sometime around 1972, near the tail end of the Vietnam War, Howell thought his name might be selected in the draft lottery and he would enter into the fray in southeast Asia.
“Nixon pulled the numbers, but he didn’t call us up,” said Howell.
Howell’s message to the students and others who attend the program will be a simple one on Monday.
“I want them to understand why they need to appreciate these veterans. Because it goes back 250 years ago when this country was founded,” said Howell. “To appreciate and understand what this country has provided for them.”
As is the case every year – albeit with one exception – former RRMR educator and Marine Hank Vogelman will address the audience with his closing remarks. Vogelman was one of the teachers who helped Shultz come up with the idea to start the RRMR Veterans Day program.
“He’s only missed one. I think he was travelling once,” said Shultz. “He’s so well thought of here and given so much to the community.”