What’s life in uniform like? Veterans share experiences with students

Dana Pendergrass traveled the world from Germany to Guam as an Air Force airman.

What he saw and learned changed his world view, the veteran told about 400 Fairborn High School students on Wednesday.

Pendergrass was one of seven veterans who were part of a ‘Take a Veteran to School Day” event Wednesday. They answered the high school students’ questions on everything from how technology has advanced in the military to how military life affects families.

“The military changed everything about my world view,” said Pendergrass, 53, of Hamilton and a Desert Storm veteran who deployed to Saudi Arabia in the U.S.-lead push that defeated Iraqi troops after they invaded Kuwait.

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“I come from a small town in Hamilton, Ohio, a very small community and I didn’t know anything about the outside world beyond that community and the values I was taught in my immediate family,” he said after the presentation. He joined the military shortly after high school and he and his family immersed themselves in foreign cultures from England to Australia. He urged students to consider public service to local communities and the nation.

Fairborn High School was contacted by Spectrum, a television and internet provider, which puts on the veterans recognition program in conjunction with the History Channel at schools nationwide, organizers said.

“This wasn’t by chance that we have picked Fairborn,” Air Force veteran and state Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, told students. He noted the proximity to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, veterans and military families in the community, and the school’s large Air Force Junior ROTC program, which has about 120 cadets. “This is the most patriotic (school) program in the state.”

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Peyton Robinson, 17, a high school junior who is an Air Force Junior ROTC, said students like him look to veterans as role models as they consider careers in the military.

“There were so many really heartfelt and meaningful stories that were shared by the vets it helped (students) gain some perspective of what it is like to serve and there were laughs, there were some very serious moments and it was a very real experience for them, especially for those students (who’ve) had no interaction with the military at all,” said High School Principal Amy Gayheart.

Zakiya Black, 35, a Trotwood veteran who was an Army medic, hoped students learned more about the military than they could in the classroom.

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“What I hope the students took away from today is the life lessons that we were able to convey through our experiences that we wouldn’t have gotten in school or in life without going through the military, and the relationship building that doesn’t happen that often,” she said.

Camaraderie in the military extends beyond the uniform a service member wears, one veteran panelist said.

“It didn’t matter what branch you served,” said Alex Gudorf, 24, of West Alexandria, and who served in the Marine Corps Reserve. “It’s all a brotherhood and a sisterhood.”

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