Strawberry Park students honor Routt County veterans
November 8, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Dressed in camouflage inside Strawberry Park Elementary School's gymnasium on Tuesday morning, 10-year-old Jack Roberts-McQuade carefully removed the F-18 flight helmet and oxygen mask that covered up his smile.
"I just really love the military. I have since I was 5 years old," Jack said, adding that he would like to someday serve in the Marines or Air Force. "I've always been thankful for our soldiers and how they are willing to die to protect their country."
Jack and more than 300 of his classmates at Strawberry Park on Tuesday morning marked the upcoming Veterans Day holiday at an assembly where they heard from more than 20 Routt County veterans representing all branches of the military. The veterans took turns describing the value of their military experience that spanned conflicts ranging from the Korean War to Desert Storm.
Scott Sanwick, who flew F-18 fighter jets as a U.S. Navy pilot, told the hundreds of children sitting before him about the flight suit he was wearing and how his military service eventually led him to become a commercial pilot.
After the event, Sanwick was flanked by groups of children who anxiously awaited a chance to try on his flight helmet. Despite that welcome attention, Sanwick said Tuesday's event was more exciting for the vets than for the students.
"It's just great to see our community has such great support for the veterans and the work they do. You don't find that everywhere," he said. "Today we got to see a new generation and how excited they are about the work we do."
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That new generation showered the veterans with patriotic songs as they thanked them for their service. The students also put together a slideshow displaying photographs of several of their family members and friends who have served in the military.
"This was very moving for everyone," Strawberry Park music teacher Eliza Schellhardt said. "It's the only time some of our students get to see and hear from these guys up close instead of on television."
The students took advantage of their personal meeting with the vets when they asked them about the food they ate and the weapons they used during their tours of duty. One student simply asked the veterans if they were scared during their service.
"I think anybody that goes into the service is scared, but that's where the teamwork comes in," Steamboat Springs rancher and Vietnam-era veteran Jim Stanko replied. "You know the person next to you is going to do their job, and you're all going to come through."
Stanko, who helped organize the event with members of American Legion Post No. 44 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4264, said the elementary school event has become a welcome Veterans Day tradition in Steamboat. The holiday activities continue Wednesday afternoon with a program at Soda Creek Elementary School and conclude Friday with a Veterans Day USO dance.
"It gets to you, and it takes a couple hours for us vets to come back down emotionally after these events," Stanko said as he started removing flags from the gymnasium after the assembly. "It makes everything worth it knowing we've given these students a way of life that some kids across the world don't have."
— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email Scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com
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