ELKINS — In keeping with Veteran’s Day this weekend, Elkins High School students and officials held a ceremony honoring area veterans Thursday morning.
Dozens of veterans were in attendance during the event, which featured a guest speaker, a wreath presentation and presentation of the colors.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and the EHS band performing the National Anthem, Penni Harris, an EHS mathematics teacher and West Virginia Army National Guard public affairs NCO with the 153rd public affairs detachment of Charleston, introduced guest speaker United States Army Sgt. 1st Class Steve Queen.
“Good morning Elkins High School, honored guests and members of the American Legion,” Harris said. “Today’s guest veteran speaker served two tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has served with the United States Army for over 22 years and is presently still serving in the West Virginia Army National Guard as the public affairs operations NCO for the 153rd Public Affairs Detachment of Charleston.”
Queen spoke about his struggles during his first deployment to Iraq, noting it took months to communicate with his wife via letters.
“Veteran’s Day is a time for us to honor and pay respect to those who served in the military. I’m a veteran and I’ve served for 22 years in the Army National Guard. During that time, I’ve deployed twice to Iraq. The first time was in 2004. I met my wife a few weeks before we deployed and I remember telling her not to wait on me because I didn’t know what the next step was or what the next thing was,” Queen said.
“At that time, letters were the best way to communicate and it took about a month for us to get a letter back and forth. I enjoy gummy bears and gummy worms. She would send me these big bags and by the time the bag got over there it was just goo,” he said. “It had heated up, then cooled and heated. It was just a big, large goo. I remember cutting little pieces off so I could have my gummy worms and gummy bears.”
He said during that deployment, he lived at a base that had minimal luxuries, including no running water.
“We stayed at a FOB, which is a forward operating base, just south of the Iran border. It was called ‘Rough Rider,’ which was real fitting for the name of the base because we were burning our own feces, we had no running water and toilets, we ate MRE’s (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) all day, each day, and there were only a few phones that we had to wait in line for and we only got to talk for a few minutes once we got on them,” he said.
Queen deployed to Iraq a second time in 2009. He said while he was there, his first daughter was born.
“I was able to come home a few months after her birth and I got to stay for two weeks before I had to turn around and leave for another 10 months,” Queen said. “This time we were in Baghdad and the conditions were much better. We had internet and with internet the big thing was Skype. It’s not like today where you have a camera on your phone, it had to be plugged in and put on the top of your computer.”
Queen did note that not everything during his time serving his country was negative. He added he got to serve with family members and met several good people while deployed.
“Not all my times have been bad with the military. I have had some good times, I’ve seen some places that I never would have gotten to see without being in the military. I’ve seen palaces in Iraq, I’ve crossed the Tigris River on a pontoon bridge and I’ve seen Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world,” he said. “I’ve had the honor of serving with my father and brother in the same unit at one time and I’ve had the privilege to have served with several great men and women.”
He closed by urging all students to thank veterans for their service and sacrifices.
“I am very proud to be a veteran. I believe it is one of the greatest honors to be able to stand among the others that are here, along with those that are out defending our nation. Today we honor those who have served before us and we keep in our thoughts and prayers the fallen, the missing and those that are currently serving in harm’s way,” Queen said. “If you meet a veteran, please be certain to thank them for their sacrifices and for all that they’ve done for us, for our communities, our nation and our military.”
The Elkins High School Student Council, represented by Susan Riggleman, senior and student council secretary, and Madison Holland, junior and student council member, presented American Legion Post 29 Past Commander Charles Ranew with a wreath for the organization.
“On behalf of the American Legion, the VFW, the Marine Corps League, Vietnam Veterans and Disabled American Veterans, it is my honor to accept this wreath to be placed at the All Veterans Memorial,” Ranew said.
The assembly closed with the West Virginia Highlanders of Davis & Elkins College playing a military set featuring the hymn of each military branch.
After the assembly, Elkins High School Principal Chris Hamrick said two teachers, who are both active-duty military, were responsible for putting the event together.
“The veterans assembly is something that was done years and years ago but hasn’t been done in a while. This is the first year we have started it back up. We have two teachers that are in the services right now. They put this all together and organized all of it,” Hamrick said. “It’s important to show our pride and show a patriotism to our veterans. Again, I didn’t organize any of this and can’t take any credit for it. It was Mr. Tim Patrick and Miss Penni Harris that put this all together.”
Hamrick added the school plans to continue to present similar assemblies in coming years.