Many veterans have the floor at Fruitland High

Four of the 17 local area veterans who presented military service topics to Fruitland High School students on Friday gather during a reception in the school library, held at the end of the Veterans Day program. Pictured, from left, are Owen Spurling, Jerome Goettsch, Alfred Wilson and Glenn Davis.

Fruitland High School’s more intensive way for marking Veterans Day continues to be popular with students, although it’s not the easiest program format for Liz Liefer, the social studies teacher who organizes the annual Veterans Day program at the school.

Friday was the third straight year for the reconfigured event, which this year featured 17 veterans serving as guest speakers in 17 different classrooms, where the veterans also answered students’ questions.

Each speaker covered a specific topic — such as Air Force National Guard veteran Shalla Doyle’s talk titled “Ladies in Blue,” or “Explosives, Minefields, and Obstacles: Combat Engineers Clear the Way,” a talk given by John Mena, an Army National Guard veteran who was a combat engineer. Liefer said students were provided the topics list days in advance of the Nov. 10 program. Each student then made a first- and second-choice request for the talk the student would prefer to attend.

Inevitably, certain topics generate greater interest. Wherever the number of student requests exceeded a talk’s attendees limit, priority was determined by class level. Liefer said seniors and juniors were well accommodated, but sophomores and freshmen who happened to pick one of the most popular topics weren’t likely to get in. Assuming this program format will remain in place the next several years, though, today’s younger students will eventually reach the front of the line.

Liefer said the two most popular sessions this year were Mena’s presentation on explosives, and Army veteran Kelly Rhinehart’s talk, “Jumping Out of Airplanes Just Because.”

Mena, a New Plymouth resident, said his military service spanned from 1972 to 1998 “with a three-year break.” He trained other soldiers in the use of explosives.

Mena said his audience of approximately 30 students was polite and seemingly engaged.

“They were good. I didn’t see any drooping eyes,” Mena said.

There’s inherent interest in the subject of “blowing things up,” he acknowledged. “Everybody likes big fireworks,” Mena said.

It was a serious presentation, of course.

“We talked about the preparation,” Mena said. “If you’re not prepared physically, if you’re not prepared mentally, if you’re not prepared emotionally, chances are you’re going to fail.”

Friday’s program had a total of 19 venues, Liefer said, because, in addition to the 17 classrooms devoted to talks by veterans, two rooms were stations for students to make cards and write thank-you letters to veterans. She said the cards and letters will be taken to the Veterans Administration hospital in Boise.

In all, 58 students signed up for the card-making and letter-writing activities. She said the activities were a new addition to this year’s program.

As guest speakers concluded their Friday afternoon talks followed by questions and answers, they headed over to the school’s library for a reception which included refreshments.

Liefer admitted that the program with numerous speakers and venues was considerably more difficult to organize than the school’s previous Veterans Day format, which was merely one large student assembly with multiple speakers in the auditorium. She said she had been considering going back to that style of program this year just to save herself some time, but when she floated the idea, students let her know they would miss the more intensive exposure to a single speaker and topic. So it looks as though the newer program style is probably here to stay.

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