In honor of Veterans’ Day on Nov.11, Sierra View Elementary School second grade teacher Linda Kraus hosted a veteran guest speaker in her class on Friday, Nov. 9.
U.S. Army Major Ryan Hartwig is a friend of the parent of one of Kraus’ students and spends time in Oakdale. Dressed in his combat fatigues, Maj. Hartwig explained to the class about how he came to enlist in the Army. He reported that he came from a farm town in Iowa and was a member of the Iowa National Guard for seven years. He went to college and became a Special Education teacher. After a year of teaching, he returned to school to obtain his master’s degree. Nearing completion of his degree, the Twin Towers were attacked by terrorists on 9-11.
“That was really a moment that changed the world,” Hartwig said to the class. “It changed my life, changed all our lives.”
It was then that he enlisted. Hartwig speaks Indonesian and his tours include Korea in 2003, Iraq 2004-05, 2005-06 and then again in 2008, Philippines 2009 (twice), Cambodia 2010, Afghanistan 2010 and also 2011.
Each year around Veterans’ Day, Kraus invites a veteran to talk to her class about their military service. Her guest speakers are frequently friends or family members of her students. Her own father retired from the U.S. Navy after serving for 20 years.
“I think it is so important for the children to recognize that many people made loads of sacrifices on their behalf and that our freedom isn’t free,” Kraus said.
She reported that prior to his presentation, she asked Hartwig to share with her students that war isn’t “cool” and to explain some of the sacrifices that are made during war.
“War and combat is not a great place,” he said. “I have several friends who’ve lost their lives in combat. When I see their wives and kids, it hurts.”
He added that being in the military isn’t just about being a hero and that what matters is that there are people who are giving their lives for this country.
“I am here to celebrate the people who’ve given their lives for our nation,” Hartwig told the students.
He talked about the values in the military and that they are God first, country, and family, in that order. He tacked onto that the importance of making good decisions and how they will help them achieve success, while a poor decision can affect them for the rest of their lives. He advised them that if they are struggling with a decision, then to go to leaders or people they trust to help give them guidance.
He also gave some background about his service. Maj. Hartwig reported that he was part of the division that initiated the invasion of Iraq and admitted that he was scared but that he trusted the soldiers around him and knew they were well-trained. They didn’t have military maps, only tourism maps to invade the country.
He said that lessons he learned in combat also apply in real life. Hartwig expressed the need to prepare in advance, always be a little bit early – not just be on time, always tell the truth, and always represent yourself and your family well. He told the students that it’s important to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.
Kraus asked him what would happen if he were ever late. Hartwig said that he would lose pay, get in trouble, lose respect, and would get fired. He also talked about how members of the U.S. military are expected to live by certain standards. For example, he must shave daily, with the exception being when he was deployed in Afghanistan when they were allowed to grow beards, and also to stay organized.
Hartwig asked how many students knew that people were in war for the U.S. right now. Most of them raised their hands. He stated that sacrifices are still being made by people on behalf of the U.S. and for the future of the children.
Hartwig shared a photo slideshow of some of his military travels and answered questions from the students. He talked about when he learned jungle survival and how to catch and eat snakes. He noted that snakes such as cobras or rattlers are very nutritious as long as the venom sacks aren’t consumed. He added that since being in the military he’s learned to eat stuff that sometimes doesn’t taste so good.
He brought his body armor vest, describing its different parts and what they’re for, and also showed the students some of the supplies it contains, including its ceramic armor. That day, the pack only weighed about 35 pounds, but he added that when it’s loaded it typically weighs 65 to 70 pounds.
Kraus said to Hartwig that she knows that the military issues tests to him, similar to how a teacher tests students and also asked him to share about the kinds of recognitions or awards he has earned, so that the students will know that they can continue earning awards even as adults.
Hartwig has acquired awards for service, valor, and combat and said that the army acknowledges its personnel. He said he also gets regularly evaluated, like a report card, and his scores are ranked against other majors in the army. He takes physical tests for running two miles, pushups and sit ups with minimums required, but his goals are higher than the minimums. He said that being in good shape is important and the work pays off. He also takes a language test for the foreign language he speaks, and noted that he recently took a math test at the Naval Postgraduate School he attends full time in Monterey.
Maj. Hartwig also explained about the ongoing and extensive training that military personnel receive. A few he mentioned were training in languages, math, shooting weapons, how to start a tractor, and how to operate a cell phone because “those skills matter,” he said, adding that there are a lot of multi-talented people in the military.
He also encouraged the students to not let grades frustrate them but to try harder and “outwork” everyone else because it will pay off.
Veterans’ Day is an official United States holiday to honor and thank all military personnel who served the U.S. in all wars, particularly living veterans.