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Veterans Day is not a day for recruiting
Nov. 16, 2018

BY GABE LICHT
Editor

I have covered five Veterans Day programs at Delano High School, and I have enjoyed doing so.

During these programs, I think about the veterans who have served this great nation to keep it free. I especially think of those in my family who served: my grandpa Milt who served as a mechanic in Okinawa during the Korean War, my uncle Freddy who never made it home from Vietnam, and my uncle Dick who did return from Vietnam and has been a vocal advocate for Vietnam War veterans ever since.

The playing of taps often brings up thoughts of uncle Freddy, who I obviously never met, and my grandpa Milt, who has been gone for 20 years now. It’s a moving experience, and it is only made possible by the members of American Legion Post 377 and the DHS staff who organize it.

I sincerely appreciate those efforts.

However, when I learned that an Army recruiter had been selected to deliver the keynote speech, I was concerned that the opportunity could turn into an attempt to recruit the students who made up the captive audience at the assembly.

Unfortunately, my concerns came to fruition.

“I take great pride in what I do as I am a firm believer serving has a ton of tangible and intangible benefits,” Sgt. 1st Class Patrick J. Holland said. “So, with that being said, don’t look at service as a last resort, but as a vehicle to help you reach future goals. Take time out and sit with a recruiter and learn truly everything there is to offer before ruling it out. Bring someone with you, too.”

I reached out to Principal Steve Heil, because I believe this statement is worrisome on a number of levels.

“I agree the focus should be and is on veterans for the celebration,” Heil said in part. “I was thinking about his speech in its entirety.”

Holland first suggested some people see military service as either a last resort or as simply a way to better oneself. Where is the civic pride in either of those mindsets? I believe that statement undermined the service of the veterans in the audience as either a self-serving act or the result of not having a “better” option.

That statement is, of course, open to interpretation, as evidenced by Heil’s response.

“He then spoke of the lasting example that had on him as a person, which in turn he spoke as him being a firm believer in serving – which to him would be not a last resort – could be military or other type service, and to look at all the options one has to achieve future goals,” Heil said.

However, his encouragement for every student to visit a recruiter was much more direct.

What does that have to do with honoring or thanking veterans?

Yes, serving in the military is one way to thank those who have served before you. Maybe if it was framed that way, I wouldn’t be writing this column, though I still believe it’s inappropriate to use an occasion like a Veterans Day program to deliver a sales pitch.

There is a time and a place for recruiting – SciTech is one example – but 9:30 a.m. Monday in front of the entire student body was not the right time or place.

To be fair, even though I believe it was wrong to promote talking to a recruiter, that was not the main part of Holland’s speech.

“Here is what I believe everyone’s responsibility is, whether or not you decide to wear the uniform,” he concluded. “Be the very best you can be. This country did not get to where it is today by just the men and women in uniform. It also took sacrifices and hard work from the civilians of this country to support those in uniform. Thank you to each and every veteran, future veteran, and my family for their unwavering support of my service, and to all that support everyone that serves.”

That was a strong finish.

As evidenced in my front-page article, he also got off to a strong start.

Heil agreed.

“He began his speech with the story of a man who gave his own life on a ship at sea, saving the crew,” he said. “One crew member was his grandfather, who after the war started a family and that is the only reason he is here today.”

Heil did not respond specifically to the statement about speaking to a recruiter, which is what I took issue with in the first place.

Yes, the bulk of Holland’s speech was solid.

I just wish he had spent the entire speech focusing on the service of veterans, honoring veterans for that service, and encouraging everyone present to do the same in whatever way they see fit, rather than including an advertisement for recruiters.

It was unnecessary at best and out of line at worst, so I hope the school avoids such situations as they select keynote speakers for future events.

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