Soldiers may be soldiers for life, but they may not stay in the military for their entire careers. Many veterans find themselves in need of work after transitioning to civilian life and some of those have found themselves working as educators in Unified School District 475 buildings.
Friday morning, Junction City High School students and staff had an early Veterans Day celebration with a ceremony. The event honored people from all branches of the military, especially those who chose to make their career as educators at JCHS after leaving their respective branches of the service.
The JROTC program filled Shenk Gymnasium during the ceremony.
JROTC Staff Sgt. Rebeka Hittle was among those who took part.
She said it was an honor to acknowledge local veterans and to be part of the high school’s JROTC program.
“It meant a lot because even though it was painful, it shows that we truly do — we’re serious about this program,” Hittle said. “Everybody in this program loves being in the program. We’re all just a huge family. And supporting the veterans — it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
The pain Hittle referenced was a physical one. During the ceremony, she and other JROTC members were expected to stand at attention for an extended period of time.
But it was worth it, she believes, to honor those who served.
“They took their time out of their day to come serve our country and let us have (the JROTC) itself,” Hittle said. “Without them, I don’t think we would be here today.”
The program is led by Lt. Col. (Ret) Richard Hodgson.
He said he felt the ceremony went well.
“It’s always hectic when we do this once a year, but it’s also one of the high points of our year,” Hodgson said. “It’s one of the rare times that I really have them all assembled together, so I always like to see it. And it’s very successful — we have good support from the staff. And an awful lot of the staff here are veterans.”
It’s meaningful to him, as a former member of the military, to have a ceremony honoring Veterans Day at JCHS.
“It’s always great to honor those who have served,” he said. “This is a very patriotic part of the world. Obviously Junction City has very strong connections with the military. So I think it’s important that we do this.”
Though the JROTC program has a constant influx of students coming and going due to the transient population of JCHS, Hodgson said there are currently about 180 students taking part in it, which is a slight increase over last year.
“The program has been as big as 280 and it has been smaller than this before,” he said. “I think it’s a good number.”
The keynote speaker was USD 475 Superintendent Reginald Eggleston, who spoke about his own military service and encouraged students to be leaders and good influences within their circles of influence.
Afterwards, he said he was proud of the respect JCHS students showed during the ceremony.
“The students performed well,” Eggleston said. “I think it’s always a great opportunity to recognize their teachers who served as well as the local community. The JROTC staff here does a fine job — one of the best — and I commend them for the citizenship and leadership training that they’re providing our young people.”