Service often means putting the needs of others above your own. Nowhere is this characteristic more evident than in the commitment of the members of the armed forces — a commitment routinely celebrated on Veterans Day.
Recognizing just what that service means, the Newton school district honored both past and present staff members who are veterans with a special breakfast on Friday. While the tradition began before superintendent Deb Hamm's tenure started, she noted it was one she was happy to continue.
"My father was in the service. My grandfather was in the service. My husband was in the service, and I think it is important that we continue to recognize the people who literally lay down their lives for the rest of us so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have in our country," Hamm said. "It is our duty, for those of us who did not serve, to remember our veterans and continue their support long after they leave the service."
Hamm noted that, with 93 percent of the U.S. population having never served, honoring veterans is critical so that their sacrifices are not forgotten.
Currently, there are at least 15 veterans on staff throughout USD 373 and those present at Friday's breakfast included former members of the Army, Air Force and Navy — including one staff member, Chisholm Middle School Language Arts teacher Cassie Balzer, who is still in active service.
A Technical Sergeant with the Nebraska Air National Guard, Balzer assists in refueling planes in flight and has been stationed all around the world, from Iraq to Germany to Japan and more.
Being recognized at the district's Veterans Day breakfast is something Balzer said she appreciates because it makes support of veterans visible in the community (including Newton as a whole), especially considering the impact of that kind of service is long-reaching.
"Whether it's education or military service, just the ripple effect of service in general can be seen and felt," Balzer said.
Participating in work that focused on impacting more than one person is part of why Balzer said she was drawn to both enlisting in the Air Force (in 2002) and teaching — with the former experience helping open her students' eyes to real world applications of their studies (like the possibility of work in various fields).
Experiences like that are something Hamm said cannot be overlooked in Newton classrooms either, as teachers with a service history can enrich the learning atmosphere.
"I can kind of make connections beyond the classroom that may or may not be possible without military service and exposure around the world," Balzer said.
"They're living history. They experienced things that I never experienced, even as a child and a wife of a veteran," Hamm said. "I think they bring that sense of service, that sense of duty to our students and they share that with them, and I think that's really critical."