Arash Afshari

Students proudly salute to our beloved veterans at Seminole High School.

Zayna Sheikh, Reporter

Every year, Veteran’s Day is set apart to honor those who protect the freedoms that this country promises. Little else embodies patriotism like offering service and risking death in the name of preserving rights and livelihoods. Though some may not know it, men and women who have done exactly that can be found on our own school campus, offering their services in a very different way: through instruction.

Though they currently teach at Seminole High, Melody Sweigert, Basil Payne, and Kyle Forrer have all experienced a radically different career–that of military service. Sweigert was in the Navy, while Payne and Forrer were both in the Air Force.

Mrs. Sweigert is a Spanish teacher, and aside from her title as the teacher who’s served longest in the IB program, she served in the Navy, working in Communications and Intelligence. She joined the military near the end of the Vietnam War in search of an adventure, and in the course of the 20 years that she served, she certainly experienced a few.

“At the time, in the mid-seventies, it was a new thing for women to serve. No one knew what it would be like to have women that weren’t nurses in the military. Instead of going down a road already travelled, we had to make our own,” explained Sweigert.

During her time in the Navy, she uncovered sexual harassment at a base, lived through bomb threats, and witnessed the Panama Canal Treaty. She also contradicted the prevailing mindset that women were less capable of serving in the military. She explains that many men acted fatherly towards her even in situations where she was their boss.

“When you get into a man’s world, you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself. No matter how far we’ve come,” said Sweigert.  

After discovering that the Air Force would pay for his college tuition, Chief Master Sergeant Basil Payne joined the military in order to further his education. Although he was never deployed, he served half of his career in countries abroad. Reflecting on his experience, he said that the years he served shaped his character by improving his leadership skills. He takes pride in the fact that he left the Force better than when he arrived.

“Serving is a thankless job for the most part. Having one day aside to say thank you really means something,” said Payne on the significance of Veterans Day.

Having served in the Air Force, Kyle Forrer has served in countless combat operations all over the world, including in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. As Forrer’s parents grew up in an occupied country, much of his childhood was filled with stories of what it was like to be without freedom. Thus, his dream of joining the Air Force as a pilot was born, inspired by a love of flying and a mission to protect those who could not protect themselves.

Forrer left service only a year ago, and his transition back to normal life has been arduous.

“Sometimes it is difficult to remember that I am not in the military anymore. There are standards that were expected while I was serving that don’t apply anymore.”

However, an upside of his return to civilian life has been the appreciation he receives. He recalls times when people thanked him by sending gifts of gratitude.

“I feel guilty when people buy me things because I served. That’s not what I joined the military for. A lot of people see us as heroes, but that I don’t think I am. I just chose to help my country in a different way,” said Forrer.

As Seminole High School’s community commemorates this special day, we take a moment to reflect on those who are separated from their families and friends and so that we can realize our blessings of normalcy. Today we remember those who have given up so much so that we can live our lives in comfort. 

“No matter how long you’ve served, it’s still a sacrifice,” said Sweigert. “Some come back with post-traumatic stress disorder and without limbs. Some don’t come back at all. Freedom isn’t free, you have to protect it. And sometimes you pay a heavy price for it.”