Each year in honor of Veterans’ Day, Linda Kraus, a second grade teacher at Sierra View Elementary School, has hosted a military veteran as a speaker in her classroom.
Many of the veteran speakers over the years have been relatives or friends of Kraus’ students, who have served the country during different eras.
“Guest speakers always enhance any subject being taught in class, and quite often make a big impact on students, by increasing their interest and understanding of what’s being covered,” Kraus said.
On Nov. 8, she hosted Zach Greenlee, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and parent of one of her students, as the speaker to her class. Leading up to the Veterans’ Day presentation, Kraus reads books to her class and she tells them about the people who make daily sacrifices, so Americans can live in “the land of the free.”
“…but nothing I can show, or tell, my second graders will be as meaningful to them as getting a chance to meet someone who has actually served our country,” she said. “Learning about different branches of the Armed Forces, seeing the uniforms that are worn, and listening to veterans share their personal experiences truly enriches my students’ understanding of why they don’t have school on November 11, and why they should be so appreciative of those who have served our country.”
Greenlee served in the Coast Guard for eight years and he explained how all branches of the military are told what to do by the Department of Defense but the U.S. Coast Guard gets its orders from the Department of Homeland Security. He talked about what the Coast Guard does, such as fighting pirates, stopping drugs from entering the country, and most importantly, rescuing people.
From his tablet computer, Greenlee showed the second graders photos of the first ship he served on, as well as many other types of U.S. Coast Guard vessels, planes, and helicopters. He showed and talked about the history of the various Coast Guard emblems, symbol, flag, and seal. He also explained how the Coast Guard was originally started in 1790 by Alexander Hamilton as the Revenue Cutter Service and its only job was maritime law enforcement, i.e. to fight pirates and collect taxes from smugglers. Greenlee told the students that in 1915, it merged with the Life-Saving Service to make the U.S. Coast Guard and the Lighthouse Service was later merged with it as well, as he showed them historical photos and talked about some of the jobs of the men who served during those eras.
He told them that a white hull on a Coast Guard boat means it’s for war, while a black hull means it’s for work. He said he was part of the Deployable Operations Group whose job it is to protect the country from terrorists. He talked about some of the special education and training needed to perform different tasks in the Coast Guard. He said that serving in the Coast Guard is still a dangerous service and, even today, the Coast Guard is still fighting pirates.
The students had many questions for Greenlee, especially about pirates, asking questions such as if he fought pirates with swords. He explained that pirates today are different than the ones in Pirates of the Caribbean. He also shared what some of the features of modern-day pirate ships look like – much different than those from “Pirates.”
“Did you see sharks in the ocean?” one student asked.
Greenlee talked about how they saw sharks everywhere and about the many schools of Hammerhead sharks that were seen, especially in the South Pacific. He shared a story about how one time, near the equator, it was very hot and he and about 30 of his shipmates climbed from a cargo net down the side of the ship to swim in the ocean. After a short while, a number of them started to feel things brushing them on the bottoms of their feet. They knew immediately what it was – a school of sharks swimming beneath them and they all hurriedly swam for the ship and scrambled up the net to safety and didn’t go back in the water for that trip.
Greenlee also talked about his uniform and explained what some of the ribbons and stripes meant. He said that he’s most proud of his Cutterman’s pin because it means he did work and did it without complaining.
Mrs. Kraus asked Greenlee what kids should do or not do if they want to join the Coast Guard someday.
“Never start smoking anything or do drugs,” Greenlee said, “or you won’t be allowed in.”
He added that it’s important to stay healthy and be in good shape, to have good grades and score high on the ASVAB (military enlistment) test. He also told them not to get in trouble with the law because that will prevent them from being accepted, as the Coast Guard is law enforcement. He noted that the U.S. Coast Guard has very high standards and that there is a waiting list, and they are selective about who they allow to join.
Kraus also asked about the types of sacrifices he made. Greenlee said he joined when he was 19 years old and newly married when he was first shipped off.
“You spend a lot of time away from your family… We’re gone a lot,” he said. “A week after I got married, I was gone for six months.”
He also said that in the military you have to work every holiday and you don’t make very much money. In response to a question from Kraus about his thoughts on war, he said that it’s not fun and it’s really scary.
“We don’t like war… That means we might get shot,” Greenlee said.
Kraus expanded on why she has veterans visit her classroom and talk to her students.
“Thanks to my mother and father – retired Naval Chief Petty Officer Ronald Crews, I learned a long time ago that war is not ‘cool,’ and that our freedom isn’t free, because many people paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Kraus said. “So, now, it is my turn to share these important lessons with the kids in my class each year.”