Community

Veterans Day fills high school with cheers

By DENNIS CONNOLLY

Staff reporter

Veterans Day isn’t just acknowledged at Oak Harbor schools, it’s celebrated. At Oak Harbor High School, the students noted Veterans Day with songs, bands and speeches honoring those who served.

In the high school gym, more than 1,500 people packed the bleachers, including 180 members of the Oak Harbor High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). They were there to celebrate Veterans Day as well as to listen to members of Naval Hospital Oak Harbor speak.

The members of the hospital are in a partnership program agreement with Oak Harbor High School.

Another reason they were there was to sign the partnership program agreement between the hospital and the school.

Petty Officer Third Class Sergio Guerrero, assistant program director for parters in Education or PIE, said the agreement is a way for JROTC to improve fitness, morale and self-esteem, as well as provide aids to education and to encourage student achievement.

“We mentor classes, do volunteer work, work as chaperones and let the students know someone else is taking an interest in them,” he said.

When HM2 Hospital Corpsman Douglas Farmer asked the assembled how many were connected to the Navy, more than 75 percent raised their hands and cheered.

Farmer talked about his six-month deployment to the Southern Philippines to advise and assist with the local goverment units and in the armed forces of the Philippines. There was a war in 2000 in the center of the Philippines and there were areas of unrest as he worked along the armed forces digging wells, putting in sanitation and getting the necessities of life in 2009. He said the Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) people were received with extreme gratefulness and generosity by Filipino people. He also said he’s grateful that Oak Harbor High School gave him such respectful attention when he talked and was impressed by JROTC’s performance.

“Yesterday I was very nervous before I got up to speak but the kids were so respectful, I just relaxed,” he said.

Ensign Kristin Burks, a nurse at Oak Harbor Naval Hospital, spoke about her six-month tour on the USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). She went to Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Timor-Leste. While touring with the Medical Civil Action Program, Burks and her shipmates saw more than 100,000 patients, 1,500 on the ship, and did 800 surgeries.

She said she liked Cambodia because the people were really receptive, and she liked seeing parts of the world most people only read about.

“I really liked it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Burks said.

Both Burks and Farmer had pictures from their deployments, both work and off duty, shown on a slide projector in the gym, and they elicited an excited response from some in the crowd.

The crowd also cheered the OHHS band and choir and the JROTC rifle team who flipped rifles through the air with nary a drop.

Afterward, JROTC assistant and OHHS Navy Science Instructor William Thiel, a retired Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic-Hydraulics (AW), said he wasn’t surprised by the respect his school showed the Navy, “Oak Harbor High School’s JROTC has the number one enrollment in the state, and I’m not a bit surprised by it,” Thiel said. “It helps that we’re in a Navy town and I think it’s a benefit to the program.”

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