by Geoff Fox
At 11 a.m. last Friday morning, students at Hancock Middle-Senior High School, along with a number of folks from the public, attended their annual Veterans Day Ceremony in the school’s auditorium.
A video of Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” played before Principal Jennifer Ruppenthal welcomed everyone to the ceremony.
In welcoming and thanking everyone for coming to the ceremony, Ruppenthal said the nation owes a “great debt” to the veterans whose service spans over the decades.
“Through untold courage and sacrifice, America’s veterans have secured the liberty which the founding fathers sought to establish here in the new world,” she said.
Ruppenthal added whenever the country has called, no matter if in darkness or peace, veterans have been there.
They have proudly carried the torch of liberty for all to see, she said. They’ve also ensured the freedom to travel, attend sporting events and movies, and a number of other freedoms.
“There’s no denying the contributions of our nation’s veterans have played a big part in making the United States of America the great nation it is today,” Ruppenthal said.
Ruppenthal also explained the history of Veterans Day.
“We owe our nation’s veterans a debt we can never repay,” Ruppenthal said. “We can and should remember them and what they did and why they had to be brave for us. But we must honor them with deeds, not just words.”
Ruppenthal said the way people can start is thanking them, but also living their lives and enjoying America’s greatness and taking advantage of all their rights the veterans have defended.
Student Government Association President Payton Mosier gave a welcome from the students before the Pledge of Allegiance and the Hancock High School Band performed the Star Spangled Banner, Taps, and 11 chimes.
Dominick McKee read It is a Soldier and Senior Jennifer Barnhart then read In Flanders Field.
“Doc” Holliday also spoke and sang the Billy Ray Cyrus song “Some Gave All.”
As the band played “Marches of the Armed Forces,” members of the audience who served in each branch of the military – Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Navy – standing as their march was played.
Holliday then introduced keynote speaker Major Bethany Shivers of the Alabama Army National Guard.
Shivers called speaking at the ceremony a great honor.
She spoke about her experiences throughout two deployments and being in natural disasters.
Looking back on her life as a civilian and being in the military, Shivers gave students and those in attendance lessons she learned and would share with her 18-year old self.
The first lesson was to no doubt yourself. Second lesson was to not look back. The third lesson, she said, was to “lean into life and let yourself experience the full range of emotions and experiences that come with it.”
Shivers told her story, including her father being in the military and their moving around.
When she graduated from high school, Shivers said she wanted to join the Army but didn’t go through with it because she was afraid of what people would think of her.
Instead she went to college and got a degree and after completing her undergraduate degree, Shivers completed her master’s degree.
It was during that time when the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred.
“September 11 changed us as a nation and a catalyst for many service members of my generation,” she said. “Once again I thought of joining the military.”
Shivers thought of joining the Navy, however an ACL injury prevented her from joining. After completing therapy on her knee, self-doubt crept back in.
She continued he master’s degree, but the job market was lousy. A professor and an athletic director got her into a PhD program.
Two years into her PhD program, the War of Terror was still ongoing and that strengthened Shivers’ desire to join the military, but her self-doubt stopped her.
“I finally decided that I needed to either to do or get over it,” she said.
On August 1, 2005, Shivers enlisted in the Army National Guard as an MP Enlisted Soldier, which was a far as women could get to combat operations.
“I wanted to be engaged in the action and I really don’t like being told I can’t do something because I’m a female,” Shivers said.
Knowing it was her decision and hers alone to join the military, so she didn’t tell anyone until after she’d enlisted.
When she reported to basic training, Shivers was already 27-years old, which was older than her other trainees and all but two drill sergeants. This earned her the nickname of “Mom” among her fellow trainees and by graduation event the drill sergeants were using the nickname.
“One of my fellow trainees tried calling me “Grandma” once, but I out-ran her and that stopped that,” Shivers said.
While at basic training, Shivers connected with another female trainee, PFC Ashley White.
Shivers told the story of the two and how they connected. A few years later, Shivers found out White had been killed in action. Members of White’ s family joined Shivers in Hancock for the ceremony.
White and two rangers had been conducting a night raid in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when a series of IED detonated.
“Serving in the military during this time, you knew you’d eventually know someone who was killed in combat,” she said.
White’s death was the first of what would be seven soldiers Shivers knew who would be killed in action, accidental, or suicide.
Shivers went on a second deployment to Afghanistan where she base security, tracking battle operations, and support a special operations team on a raid.
After deployment, Shivers went back to work in her lab and had some successes while there.