‘For the greater good’

Veterans spoke about their military service to fourth-graders at Pineville Elementary as part of Take a Vet to School Day Nov. 6.

Principal Brian Doerer, Rep. Scott Stone and Sen. Jeff Jackson, who was a judge advocate general for the Army National Guard, gave opening remarks before turning over the program to veterans Khris DeCapua, Jennifer Woods, Andrew Ladner and Richard Austin. Students asked the veterans questions, ranging from how they decided on which branch of the military to join, to what foods they missed during deployment. One question was especially serious.

"Why did you join the Army if you thought you might not come back from war?" asked one student.

"For the greater good," said DeCapua, a Marine who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. "If what I did kept people safe or if I saved one life, then that's a sacrifice I was willing to make."

Austin, a lieutenant colonel, has been in the Army Reserves for almost 30 years, as well as the National Guard. A former artillery officer, he is now a liaison with the South Korean army. Austin told the students that the military offers camaraderie and many opportunities.

11.7.17.Pineville vets_inside pic.jpg"I've been to places I never would have been to before; I have jumped out of airplanes and been paid to do it," Austin said. "We are truly in the best country in the world and there is a sense of pride in what we do."

Ladner, who was an Army paratrooper and engineer deployed in Iraq, also spoke about the bonds formed in the military. He said that he didn't remember a lot of his classmates but will always remember those who served with him. He told students that being overseas can be lonely at times and that Facebook and Skype had not been invented when he was deployed. But he did receive letters from students and wrote back to as many as he could.

Woods said she was happy to participate in the program, in part to counter many of the negative things about the military that are reported in the news.

"It's important to educate them on what it's really like," said Woods, who was a medic in the Air Force Reserves for 12 years. "It's especially important for them to see female veterans so they don't think it's just the boys."

The students sang two songs, "One Nation" and "On Veterans Day." They also gave the veterans personalized books and T-shirts.