Veterans discuss their service at middle school program
On the day expressly designated to honor America’s veterans, Northwestern Middle School hosted four people who serve our country.
Air Force Master Sgt. Nicole Dunlap, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Steve Petres, National Guard Lance Cpl. Austin Blackwell and Army Nuclear Biological Specialist Alfred Stirba IV addressed eighth graders, delivering presentations and sharing their military experiences.
“[We wanted] to share as many of our branches of service with our students as we can, since many are considering the military for their future goals,” Event Coordinator Wendy Madouse said.
“We are proud of our military and proud to see the respect our students have for them as well.”
The four military guests shared their experiences in half-hour segments in classroom settings where students were encouraged to ask questions after viewing presentations.
Blackwell quickly earned the attention of the young audience as he showed slides of weapons and uniforms, while describing some of his experiences as a mortar man in the infantry.
“You get to do a lot of things and you get to meet a lot of interesting people,” he said. “Trust me guys, it’s fun, but it’s a big commitment.
“You start at the bottom and work your way up. You can go ROTC.
“With each rank, you get a little more responsibility. Right now, I’m trying to get promoted to corporal but you’re competing with others.”
Stirba described his job as being like “a medical janitor.”
He told the students part of his training included going into a building and being exposed to stuff like tear gas.
“During the war, people were really concerned about nuclear weapons,” he explained. “Though chemical weapons were not used with our people, if they were, we [would] get those people, clean them off and get them to a hospital.
“It’s most important to get the stuff off them. “
“For our white suit mission, our unit here is responsible for any kind of problem that would happen in the U.S.,” Stirba said. “It sounds really, really fancy but most of what we had to do, even in the dessert, was wear our uniforms plus special clothing.
“In the desert in Iraq, it was only 120 degrees and I had two layers of clothing on,” he explained, with a touch of humor.
Petres is currently stationed in the Lehigh Valley.
“When I say Navy, what do you think about?” he asked.
“Well, the Navy is about projecting power overseas.
“We help maintain the peace. Who picks a fight with the big guy who works out every day?
“Generally speaking, people don’t want to mess with us.
“We kick butt and we try to prevent [the worse] from happening.”
He said readiness is at the core of Navy protocol.
“There are 20 Navy ships deployed right now and they’re ready to go just in case something should happen,” he said.
Dunlap then spoke about her experiences.
“Air used to be our big thing, but now we’ve branched off into space and cyber space,” Dunlap said. “If you have the capability to shut down cyber issues, it’s very important [work].”
The 18-year veteran joined the Air Force out of high school.
“I’ve had a great experience. I was in Biloxi, Miss., for three years, and was deployed to Kuwait,” she said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate on the deployment end of it.”
Traveling is an eye-opening experience, Dunlap stated.
“Qatar was totally different than what I thought it would be like,” she said. “It’s a really tiny country.
“We were kind of there just to make sure the people were protected. We were doing surveillance to make sure nothing threatening was happening.”
Dunlap recalled receiving her mother-in-law’s cinnamon rolls and sharing them with her Air Force friends.
“It meant lot,” she said. “Write to those in the service, just to let them know you’re thinking about them. It means a lot.”
Following the morning presentations, students and teachers went out to the flagpole and paid their respects at the memorial stone placed there four years ago when the school won an award from PBS for its teaching about the military, Madouse said.
“[Students placed] flags respectfully after the ceremony along the path leading up to our school,” she explained.
“We challenged them each to think of someone they know who has served in any branch of the military as they place their flag respectfully.”
In the weeks ahead, the middle school will be participating in the Festival of Trees initiative for the upcoming holidays.
“Our students will be writing letters to our military to be placed on a donated tree at the Lehigh Valley International Airport for the holidays,” she said.
“For the past four years, we have made sure to honor our veterans during Veterans Day and again in May for Memorial Day,” Madouse said.
“For the Festival of Trees, we place letters and candy canes for any military traveling through the airport during the holidays.”