ECHS Voice Of Democracy Presenters Highlight "What Makes America Great" In Veterans Tribute
VFW Members stand with Voice of Democracy Winners: L-R: Kevin Engel, Donna Engel, Lainey Alexander, Zoha Shabaz, Brooklyn Bean, Floyd Houston, Bennie Durbin.
Darren Doyle, story and photos:
Edmonson County High School hosted their annual Veterans Day Program today, which featured the Voice of Democracy speech winners and special guest speaker retired Army Command Sergeant Major Kevin Engel.
Assistant Principal Chad Johnston emceed the program that was led by ECHS students, which began with the Presentation of Colors by Boy Scout Troop 597. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by FFA President Morgan Turci, which was followed by the singing of The Star Spangled Banner by FFA Secretary Jade Keltner.
Local VFW Post 6937 Commander Floyd Houston, Lt. Colonel U.S. Marine Corps (ret.) recognized all veterans in attendance and presented the first, second, and third place speech winners their awards.
"The news likes to tell how bad things are in America," said Col. Houston, "but I look up here and see the faces of all these great young kids in Edmonson County and I don't believe that. We're gonna be OK."
The first place winner was ECHS junior Zoha Shahbaz who said that while many see America as just a country, but to her, it is home.
"A place where we're granted rights, a place where we're not discriminated based on our race or ethnicity, and most importantly, a place where we are free and independent," she said.
She said there three crucial factors that makes America great for her: freedoms, diversity, and opportunities available. She discussed the three points in detail and finished with various examples of how women's opportunities have continued to become equal with men's.
"The values I hold for this country are something I could never print into words," she said. "Due to the work and service of our founding fathers and protection from our military, America is a free and independent country. I consider myself to be fortunate to be in a country where everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and no one is judged for being themselves. America is undoubtedly free because of the brave."
Sergeant Major Kevin Engel, was the featured guest speaker. Engel is an Iraq War veteran and a Bronze Star and Purple Heart Medal recipient. He is also the VFW 5th District Commander as well as the Brownsville VFW Post 6937 Senior Vice Commander. His speech highlighted the choice he made more than 30 years ago to do something more, and the continuing choices to do so throughout his life and career.
He said he was deployed to Iraq with 101st Airborne as a senior enlistment adviser to the commander of an 875-man task force, responsible for 1100 square miles of combat space in Iraq, which he said was the toughest job he ever had.
He addressed students in today's assembly.
"You, as teenage students have opportunities that will come your way," he said. "Step outside of your comfort zone. Dedicate yourself to being more and achieving more. If you never try to reach for more, you'll never know what could have been. You will get older and wonder, 'what if I did?'
He encouraged students to find a mentor, listen, learn, then make the choice to do something more.
"It's all about choices," he said. "Every person in this room will have opportunities as they move forward to make choices...don't be afraid to make a choice and to try something that's outside your comfort zone. Everybody has more in them than they think."
Veterans in attendance were then asked to stand and be recognized as a medley of armed forces theme songs were played. As each theme played, the various branch members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard stood to the applause of the crowd.
Dalton Curtis, a member of the ECHS band and Eagle Scout, played "Taps," on the bugle as the ceremony came to a close. Many veterans stayed after the program to enjoy time with friends.
Most veterans then went to the Community Center where the DAV Auxiliary treated them to a special Veterans Day Dinner.