Photo and Story by James Preminger, CCSD Public Relations
Army Ranger Staff Sgt. Quentin Mason, an Ojo Amarillo Elementary School parent and a veteran who served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, sat with other parents in the bleachers during the school’s annual Veterans Day ceremony, held Nov. 11, 2016, in the gymnasium.
More than 500 students from kindergarten through the fifth grade—the entire school—performed a variety of songs following the posting of the Colors by the Upper Fruitland Veterans Association Color Guard.
The National Anthem was sung by a student in Navajo and English. Students also sang God Bless America, You’re a Grand Old Flag, and Yankee Doodle.
“The beginning when the Flag came in, seeing the Colors, and the kids singing got emotional for me. I’m usually not emotional. I don’t know why,” Mason said. “I always teach my kids about that, being a veteran, to respect it.”
Mason said in an interview he saved the lives of fellow squad members when they were shot at during a patrol in Mosul, Iraq. Mason, who was bringing up the rear, was shot in the leg. He returned fire eliminating the threat. He earned two Purple Hearts in Iraq. This was one of them.
“Thank you for teaching our kids, our babies, about what it means to be a veteran,” said Christina Aspaas to Ojo Amarillo Elementary Principal Abena McNeely during the program. Aspaas is the Central Consolidated School District School Board secretary. “Kids, you did an awesome job today. I’m very impressed.”
Aspaas recognized veterans in the audience by asking them to stand. They were greeted by applause. “Thank you, thank you for your service,” she said.
The music program at Ojo Amarillo Elementary was led by music teacher Natalia Kruse. Ojo Amarillo Elementary teachers Mel Sharp, a Navy veteran, and Jerald Bidtah, a Marine Corps veteran, spoke to the students about their service.
The Hogan-shaped entryway to Ojo Amarillo Elementary was covered with pictures of veterans who were related to the students.
“I think it’s important to recognize them in our small community here,” said Ojo Amarillo Elementary receptionist Charlene Tyler, who helped organize the display.
“We’ve had grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, brothers, sisters, parents, moms and dads who have served or are still in the service. They (the students) brought their pictures to share. … It’s an honor,” she said.
Other schools throughout the Central Consolidated School District held Veterans Day programs in the days leading up to Veterans Day, and on the day itself.
Their programs included: Shiprock High School Marine Corps Jr. ROTC cadets reenacted Marines raising the U.S. Flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima. It was during Nizhoni Elementary School’s music performance at the Phil Thomas Performing Arts Center in Shiprock.
Kirtland Central High School Army Jr. ROTC’s drill team performed in Kirtland Elementary School’s Veterans Day program at the school, which also featured cadets in period uniforms from throughout U.S. history. The KCHS cadets also marched in a parade in Aztec.
Other CCSD Veterans Day programs included Judy Nelson Elementary performing at the Brooks/Isham Performing Arts Center in Kirtland and Eva B. Stokely Elementary performing at the Phil Thomas Performing Arts Center.
The Kirtland community also held its annual Veterans Day program at the Brooks/Isham Performing Arts Center. Numerous students from Judy Nelson Elementary, Kirtland Middle, and Kirtland Central High School participated.