Children today often learn from whom they are around. The “atmosphere” one resides in is a true breeding ground, regardless of who you are and where you are. The opposite is also true; you can create an atmosphere where you are.
The American Veterans of Foreign Wars host writing competitions each year in the schools throughout the United States of America. Ethan Martin, a ninth-grader at Craig County High School, recently placed first in the local essay writing contest. He then took District as well with the title “What Makes America Great?” He has now won these awards two years in a row.
Martin’s great-grandfather was in WWII, one “Grandpaw” in Korea and another “Grandpaw” was stationed in Alaska. His dad served in the Air Force and now works with the Virginia Police Department.
Martin decided to be a youth volunteer during the summer, as the atmosphere he had been exposed to inspired him to serve. Because of his passion, he now words with Veterans once a week. He shared, “I see a lot of Veterans and I love history and the Veterans have so many war stories.”
Martin’s essay caught the heart of many Veterans who had the opportunity to read his essay, because of its heartfelt content. He wrote:
“The sun illuminated the dew-covered battlefield. Though orange hues lit up the tree-line amidst the sound of gunfire, the field was void of soldiers. I sat anxiously, knowing the military members were hidden, yet waiting for them to appear. Suddenly, in the distance, one lone man emerged, tiptoeing stealthily. Then two more followed, mimicking their leader’s sweeping movements while inching ever closer to us. I held my breath. Instead of three now, there were six, seven, eight, nine. A standard fire team. Each member of the team was outfitted with weapons specific to his qualifications. As individuals, each is intimidating; as a team, they are America’s finest fighting force. When they reached their objective, ten yards in front of us, pride replaced my anxiousness. You see, this fire team was the initial demonstration in front of a large group of civilians. They were there to wish their graduating Infantrymen goodbye before they shipped out from basic training to their posts to defend this great country of ours. My oldest brother, Alex, was a graduate this day. He made a choice to volunteer.
“It’s this freedom of choice for every citizen that makes America great. With the start of this country, our founding fathers wrote the Constitution of the United States. It was designed to give the people the power of government. By separating the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government and implementing a system of checks and balances, the Constitution prevents one branch of government from usurping power from the other branches. As citizens, we have the freedom to choose to elect the officials that will represent us in these branches of government. In addition, the Constitution outlines 27 amendments, illustrating how we can choose to amend the Constitution to fit the country’s needs at any given time.
“When American military members take the oath of enlistment into service, they state they will ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic…to bear true faith and allegiance to the same…’ For most people, it’s easy to honor our military and veterans on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans’ Day. But for the remaining 362 days of each year, it’s my observation that we take for granted their protection of our Constitutional freedoms. The men and women who voluntarily serve this country in the military are the bravest souls, and most estimates agree that only 0.5-1 percent of the entire American population currently serves in our armed forces. Don’t miss that, 1 out of every 100 citizens volunteer to serve. How can we choose to honor that sacrifice?
“For approximately six months, I have been volunteering at my local Veterans Affairs hospital. I have met a lot of the people who have previously served this country – in distant past and more recent conflicts. One individual in particular has had a profound impact on me. In order to understand that, you need to know that there couldn’t be two more different individuals. He is in his mid-50’s; I am in my early teens. He’s a larger gentleman; I am still gaining muscle. He’s an extreme extrovert; I tend to be an introvert. He is an African American Marine veteran, often confined to a wheelchair; I am a Caucasian high schooler, still ‘wet behind ears’ and quite mobile.
“Despite what he may going through, every time he comes in, he’s an encouragement to other veterans who are sick or disabled. He always greets them with a smile. If he sees another Marine, he bellows, ‘Semper Fi, Brother,’ or ‘Hoorah, Marine!’ Over the past few months, we’ve developed such a camaraderie that he will often ask for me to escort him to his appointments and on his errands at the VA. His actions to his brothers and sisters in arms remind me weekly that there are really no races – just our human race – exactly as God intended.
“As I escort him and other veterans to their appointments, I cannot help but notice the physical trauma they’ve endured on my and other’s behalf. Some are blind, some are deaf, some are amputees, and some fight that unseen battle of the mind. I am then reminded of my brother who is a brand-new Army recruit. He, too, may one day be in these veterans’ positions. Because these men and women chose to serve for those who can’t or won’t, I have chosen to repay them by serving them now as a volunteer at the Veterans Administration. We all have this freedom of choice. So… how will you choose to make America great?”
Martin shared that he had thought about going into the Marines or the Air Force to be a Black Hawk Pilot. Commander Billy Lee of Craig Post 4491 said, “Ethan is a good writer, and I am proud to know how much he cares for our country.”
It seems his ‘heritage’ may be lighting his pathway, as his heart is already reaching out to serve as a young man and true American.