DENVILLE, NJ – As part of its Veterans Day recognition, Valleyview Middle School students and staff welcomed the following local military veterans on Nov 12: U.S. Navy veteran Doug Erwine; active U.S. Army Reserve combat engineer Justin Harris-Bennett, who is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in 2020; U.S. Army veteran Lenn LeFebvre; U.S. Army combat engineer veteran, retired combat engineer Connor Phillips; cannon fire direction specialist and Desert Storm veteran Mike Schermerhorn; U.S. Army combat Vietnam veteran James Vialard; retired Master Sergeant U.S. Army Reserves Nancy Witte; and retired Navy and reserve member Joe Novak. The school also acknowledged Sheri Washington, wife of U.S. Army National Guard 1st Sergeant of the 102 Cavalry Regiment, Alpha Troop, Kevin Washington, an Iraq War veteran currently deployed in the Kingdom of Jordan.
Valleyview has invited veterans for the past several years in honor of Veterans Day to teach students about the lives of soldiers and their experiences and sacrifices for the nation. Throughout the school day, the guests of honor meet with students to tell their stories, explain the roles they played while serving, discuss various career opportunities in the military, and praise those who continue to serve as well as their families.
“This visit by our veterans is critical for Valleyview students,” said seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher Jennifer Faliveno.
“These students were born into the post-9/11 world. Many do not even realize that they are of a wartime-generation, and those who do recognize it, are just coming to an age where they are able to learn and comprehend why, and study the events that led to 9/11 and those that have occurred in response. Our nation is experiencing a growing disconnect between our civilian and military populations. This experience provides students the opportunity to speak freely with our guests, ask questions, and learn from their experiences. In turn, our veterans are left feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment, knowing that they have made an impact, and all that they have fought and served to protect is continuing to flourish here at home. On this day, their worlds do not seem so far apart, and their missions are accomplished.”
Sheri Washington shared what it is like for the loved ones of soldiers back home.
“[As a wife and mother,] I had to be strong and take care of my children and everything at the house. You don’t know how much you need your spouse until he is absent. It was a really scary time. We didn’t even watch the news.”
“The hardest part in some areas like Iraq is you don’t know who’s your friend and who’s your enemy,” said Washington.
Army veteran LeFebvre also shared his story. He enlisted in 2004 and later served in Signal Corps, the 4th Infantry Division and the 4th Sustainment Brigade Rear Detachment for support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. One day in 2007, during the final stages of preparation for deployment to Iraq, he suffered a life-changing knee injury.
“I became a disabled veteran, but it was a key that opened an opportunity for me,” said LeFebvre, who now works as a music DJ for many events around Denville, including once for a Valleyview school dance.
Seventh grader Romie Kalupy (13), excited to meet the veterans, stated, “It’s inspiring, and we’re honored to speak with these guys.”
“They’re all very brave, and Nancy Witte is a very empowering person for young women.”
Witte currently serves as a member of the Denville Township Council and is a retired teacher who formerly worked at Valleyview.
Kalupy’s classmate, Trisha Patel (12), also felt inspired by the veterans’ visit.
“I’m really honored to have the veterans in our school,” said Patel.
“It makes you want to help our nation.”
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