Rock Hill students learn meaning of Veterans Day from Iraq War veteran

Published 11:01 am Thursday, November 12, 2009

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP — “Ten years ago I sat where you sat, just in a different school (building),” Jared Jenkins told the students at Rock Hill High School Wednesday morning.

But in the 10 years since Jenkins maneuvered the halls at the high school, he has done a lot of living.

On Wednesday he stood before the students as a veteran, a soldier who had served his country, a soldier who, on Veterans Day, had a unique understanding of what it is to be a veteran.

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Jenkins was the guest speaker for the school’s Veterans Day assembly. Principal Steve Lambert explained that, last year, the school gathered around the flagpole for a brief Veterans Day ceremony.

This year, he wanted something that better defined and illustrated what Veterans Day is and why it is important.

Teacher Tanner Heaberlin, who helped organize the event, said Jenkins seemed to be the perfect ticket.

“They’ve heard of people who fought in World War II and Korea and Vietnam. This is someone who is not much older than some of them, someone they can relate to,” Heaberlin said.

Jenkins graduated from Rock Hill High School in 1999. He joined the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division soon after.

That was before 9/11. After the terrorist attacks, he was sent to the Middle East.

He took part in the fall of Baghdad and would serve two tours of duty to Iraq before he left the military a couple of years ago.

“When I talk about Veterans Day, some good things come up and some bad things come up, too,” Jenkins explained.

He brought with him scenes of both the good and the bad.

Behind him on a large projector screen Wednesday were photographs of Jenkins the soldier, carrying a gun and surveying the damage to a building, greeting Iraqi children who flashed smiles and waved to the Americans and looking for explosives alongside a road.

One aerial view of Baghdad showed blocks and blocks of a city in ruins after the U.S.-led bombing.

He spoke of a friend who, only four months from leaving Iraq and the Army behind, fell victim to the perils of war. The friend was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED).

The loss of friends and fellow soldiers has caused him to reflect on war and life much differently.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t get up and thank God I’m alive,” Jenkins said.

Of Veterans Day, Jenkins said, “It’s a more emotional day for me now.”

After Jenkins’ talk, Lambert encouraged the students to be more respectful of veterans and of their county.

“Friday nights, when you go to basketball games or outside at football games and they play the National Anthem, remember what Jared said today. You live in a blessed country,” Lambert said. “All you have to do (to know this)

is visit other countries…”

Rock Hill Junior Michael Morgan said Jenkins’ reflections on patriotism and service to his country mirrored his own attitude.

“I have family members who have been in the war,” Morgan said. “I think it is really important for us to honor them, tell them ‘thanks’ for what they’ve done.”

The assembly included Rock Hill student Jessica Cox, who played “Taps” and Mycah Pemberton, who sang the National Anthem.