By Judy Cohen Minches/ Pine Barrens Tribune
MEDFORD—The 9th Annual Armed Services Awards Ceremony, hosted by the Lenape Regional High School District (LRHSD) on May 15, spotlighted individuals who are entering, currently serving in or have served in the military—described by keynote speaker State Assemblyman Ryan Peters as “the greatest job on the planet.”
The event at LRHSD’s Lenape High School was marked by a presentation of awards as well as inspiring, supportive and heartfelt speeches by Shawnee 2013 alumnus Erik Schoenberg, Peters and LRHSD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carol Birnbohm.
Music by the Lenape High School Concert Choir and a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by students Alex Steinberg on the trumpet and Jonathan Jones on the snare drum further enhanced the evening.
Honors were bestowed upon seniors from Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca and Shawnee high schools entering either the military, a military academy or a college ROTC program.
Student honorees included Cherokee’s Andre Flamini, Ethan Lacy, Joseph Mikusa, Liana Pacheco, Amanda Riley and Paige Roberts; Lenape’s Arielle Beauchemin, Aaron Dienfenbach, Grant DiDomenico, Ronald Hicks, Kevin Lauer, and Jake Steffa; Alexa Adams and Shane Brennan from Seneca; and Christian Iannuzzelli and Matthew Ross from Shawnee.
School district alumni and employees who are serving in the military or are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces were also recognized, as were parents and grandparents for the support they have provided to their loved ones.
Honorees in these categories included Kelly Bulger, Michael Deehr, Alecia Dunmire, Harry Dunmire, Frank Fatale, Bernard “Skip” Gmitter, Joseph Halber, Kristi Kennedy, Alexander Litwornia, Sue Ann Miller, Robert Reigada, David Schill, Ramila Scott, James Snyder, Sr., John Snyder, and Anthony Zissimos.
Schoenberg, the emcee for the evening, drew upon his past to give graduates a perspective about their future.
Starting with his first move out of high school when he went to Penn State through a U.S. Army ROTC scholarship, he became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon graduation. He is currently pursuing a law degree at Rutgers Law-Camden to become a U.S. Army judge advocate.
He advised the students to approach life in the military as he did: absorb as much information as possible, pursue every opportunity available and do the very best to find a passion.
Peters, who represents the state’s 8th Legislative District—which includes parts of Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor’s degree in political science and received a law degree from Rutgers Camden.
Peters was on multiple combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Navy SEAL and currently serves as lieutenant commander for SEAL Team 18 in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
“You are on the verge of having the greatest job on the planet,” he said. “You are being asked to defend our freedom. It is a sacred oath.”
Peters also told students entering the military that they will face difficult challenges.
“You are going to fail, but you’ll get back up every single time and push yourself every single day,” he said. “You will become a leader.”
Peters gave the students his “Bone Theory” of Leadership which includes “a wishbone, a funny bone, and a backbone.”
“Stay optimistic,” he said. “Never lose your funny bone—learn to laugh at yourself; it’s a sign of confidence. Remember, ‘He who stands for nothing falls for anything.’”
Birnbohm took the stage to discuss the importance of creating a support system for students going in to the military.
Not only might they be away from their families for the first time, she explained, but “they will have an added pressure of being a part of something much bigger than they have been a part of before.”
“Our students will not only be representing themselves when they go out in public, they will be representing their school, community, and now, the United States of America,” said Birnbohm, whose father served in the Korean War.
She indicated that she is hopeful that district students pursuing a military career will connect with veterans who can “provide invaluable insight” for them and their parents on what to expect in the coming year.
She urged the graduates to learn from the veterans, thank them for their service and ask them a lot of questions.
“You won’t regret it,” she said to the honorees.
Looking ahead to next year when it is her time to shine as an honoree, Lenape junior and First Sergeant Kaila Trouts attended the event in her official JROTC capacity, having joined in her freshman year.
“I’m not in this just for fun,” she said. “I’m passionate. I’ve been wanting to go into the U.S. Army ever since I was 10 years old, when I saw a person in uniform.”
Trouts, whose brother is in the military and further inspired her to pursue her passion, said she is proud to the be the first female in her family to serve her country.
“We all have a purpose in life; my purpose is to serve,” said Trouts, who hopes to be a special needs teacher when her tour of duty is over.
Matthew Webb, the district’s director of programs and planning, said the awards ceremony is one of the district’s favorite events of the year.
“We are grateful to have the privilege of honoring our future heroes—our students—and our current heroes—the active servicemen, women and veterans,” Webb said.