VALLEY, Ala. (11/14/2011) - Jim Darden is a big man on campus. Or at least he was Nov. 10.
Retired Maj. Gen. James Darden speaks to the students and faculty at Beulah High School in Valley, Ala., Nov. 10, 2011. Darden was the guest speaker, and among 25 other veterans that were honored, at Beulah's annual Veterans Day observance. A resident of Birmingham, Darden is a U.S. Army Reserve ambassador for the state of Alabama. Photo by Gail Anderson
| ||That's when Darden, a retired major general, was honored along with about 25 other community veterans at a Veterans Day observance held at Beulah High School here.|
Darden is not only a veteran of several wars, but his current position as a U.S. Army Reserve Ambassador for the state of Alabama makes him more than qualified to speak as a subject matter expert and is often the reason he is sought to speak at public venues.
An Alabamian himself, Darden is always more than happy to speak at community events that educate audiences about the Army, the Army Reserve and the sacrifices that men and women in all branches of today's armed forces are making, for the sake of their freedom.
Speaking to an assembly of 750 junior and senior high school students and faculty on the day before Veterans Day, Darden told the audience that there were three main "take aways" that he wanted to impart on them.
"I want you to know what it means to be a military person," said Darden. "I want you to know about those ordinary people doing extra ordinary things in the defense of this country and I want you to know that the armed forces does not send individuals into war - we send families," Darden said.
He then went on to depict the everyday lives of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to a crowd that seemed to be in awe of the daily activities and lives of those who had either served in wars past, or are currently serving this country. Many were either unaware or had simply forgotten what it takes to be a uniformed service member.
Darden gave examples like Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. Leroy Petry who lost his right hand while trying to save his comrades from an enemy grenade that had been tossed in amongst his fellow soldiers and a19-year old farm boy, Pfc. Tom Wilson, who died in the arms of a combat medic after taking several direct rounds from the weapon of an Afghan insurgent.
"You see," said Darden, "when you sign up and take your oath of office, you're writing a metaphorical check to the government - up to, and including, your life. That's a pretty strong statement, that's a pretty strong commitment." Pointing to the veterans in the audience, Darden then said "that's what these men and women, here, have done - that's what veterans do."
Before thanking everyone in attendance for their participation in the Veterans Day observance, Darden concluded his comments by explaining his final point, about sending families off to war. He said "Many of you here today have a loved one that has served in the military," said Darden. "Sometimes, when we go to war, it is easier on us [as a service member] than it is on the family. We're pretty well occupied, we know what we're in there for, but for the loved ones that are left behind, it's often far more difficult. But that soldier, sailor, airman or Marine takes your love with them and puts it on, as an extra piece of body armor, to know why they're there, and what they're fighting for -- you, and your future - so you see, just Soldiers don't go to war, we all go to war."
Darden and the veterans present, all, then received a two minute standing ovation from the faculty and students.
Beulah's Veterans Day observance and Darden's participation was arranged by the Montgomery Recruiting Company commander, Capt. Vershunda Jones, who met Darden at the Prattville, Ala., Army recruiting center last year.
"We were having a Center of Influence event here at the recruiting station and I got to meet Mr. Oren, Beulah's assistant principal, and he was telling me about the veterans program that they have there each year asked me how I could assist in making it better, so I called Darden and asked him to speak at this event, and right away, he jumped at the opportunity," said Jones.
Jones also employed two of her finest leaders, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Fariss and Sgt. 1st Class Frederick Burns to help her make the Veterans Day observance a success for the school and the community.
Fariss is a high school graduate from a neighboring community who asked the Army to send him back to his hometown to work in the Valley, Ala., area, so he was excited about getting the chance to participate in Beulah's Veterans Day program.
"I've been working with the guidance counselors and some of the other staff here at Beulah and they invited me and my fellow recruiters to come out, participate in the program and to sit with and help some of the other local veterans," said Fariss. "I think this was an outstanding program and I'm very glad to see that our communities and our high school is very, very supportive of the military and will go out of their way to set up a program and a reception like they've done today."
Sgt. 1st Class Burns, center commander of the neighboring Auburn, Ala., recruiting station, was also happy with how the program went.
"The program was outstanding. It was the best high school Veterans Day programs I've seen in the five years I've been in Army recruiting and the one thing I took away from today was how Darden stressed to the kids that freedom is not free," said Burns. "I would do this (participate in Beulah's Veterans Day observance) all over again, without skipping a beat!, " said Burns.
During a reception for all veterans, held in the school's basement immediately following the program, Jones said there are already plans underway to ask Darden to return to Beulah next year and make the program even better still.
By Gail Anderson
81st Regional Support Command
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