Veterans First had seven students from Big Valley Christian School take a field trip to their facility in Riverbank recently to witness a flag ceremony, disposing of the flag, and filling 18 care packages that will be shipped to active duty military personnel overseas. The students are part of a program called S.A.L.T. (Service And Leadership Training) at Big Valley, which includes students from many area communities. SALT advisor Donna Wilson and assistant Becky Ward set out to bring the students to Veterans First on Thursday, Sept. 22 for the unique lesson. Since space was limited, out of the 18 SALT students only seven were able to attend the trip.
The eighth graders, Owen Russell, Peter Pacheco, Robert Pacheco, Briggs Alabezos, Carson Cripe, Casey Syoboda, and Jocelyn Powell along with veterans Duke Cooper, Brian Scholl, and Woodie Woodruff, to name a few, started out the experience with the Pledge of Allegiance.
The students in the SALT program have been to several different establishments as part of their class, including a care home where they visited with senior citizens that struggle with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Cooper was then asked to visit Big Valley to share some of his military knowledge and views on patriotism with the students. He discussed what it means to be a veteran along with his experience being a Marine and let them know about the newly opened Veterans First and what they do there.
After the presentation the students were invited to visit Duke and the veterans at the facility to participate in a flag ceremony and flag disposal.
The students also donated time and filled 18 care packages with goodies like beef jerky, pop tarts, sunflower seeds, books with word and number games and they put a handwritten personalized letter in each package, thanking them for serving this country.
“My SALT class wanted to help out the Veterans that are still out (overseas),” said Syoboda. “I really like the care packages because it really helps everyone that is out (overseas) have something from home. We packed snacks for them and game books so they could play and wouldn’t be bored.”
“I think it is really great to come out here and show the veterans that we love them by bringing these care packages that we send overseas to them,” said Peter Pacheco. “We packed a bunch of letters showing that we care for them.”
“It is really cool to be able to do this kind of stuff,” added Russell. “It has been a super great experience for me. I have learned a lot like about how hard doing a job of a veteran can be and just kind of the pain as well as the honor that comes with it.”
The veterans took the students outside to a flag pole where they had a flag ceremony. They were advised how to unfold the American flag, then how to attach it to the pole, and finally raise it. As the flag blew in the breeze the students all looked up at it with a smile and focus, knowing a little more about respect and honor.
“I think the flag ceremony was really cool because we got to do something that not everyone gets to do,” added Pacheco. “We got to raise up the flag and it was really cool. I learned that the flag can’t touch the ground and that you have to properly dispose of it if it does. So as we were raising it I was trying to make sure that it never touched the ground.”
“It (flag ceremony) meant a lot to me because I am only 13 and I never thought that I would be able to see something like this and it is a pretty big eye opener because it is like, wow, this is a really special time not just for me but for our country,” stated Russell.
The next portion of the experience was the proper disposal of the American flag. Each student had a flag and one by one placed it in a barrel to burn to ashes. They dedicated each flag as it was placed in the barrel to a grandfather, uncle, or father that served their country as well as thanked all the active duty military members that are currently serving. The students took each ceremony and activity seriously.
“Today I hope the kids go back to school knowing that they should be proud that they are Americans; that they live in America, in a country as great as our country is and that they are our future,” said Cooper. “They should be proud of what they did today so to go away with patriotism, that is the maximum thing for me.
“These are good kids.”