Patrick Bowers spent 17 years in the Army and served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq before retiring as a sergeant first class.
Friday, Bowers was among those who gathered at Bryan County High School as the school and its JROTC program saluted area veterans.
“This means a lot to veterans,” said Bowers, who lives in Ellabell and serves as a police officer in the Hinesville Police Department. “These kids did an amazing job, it’s good to see the JROTC department keep the tradition and heritage going, and that they’re showing support for the fallen and those who served before us. It means a lot to us.”
Among the cadets involed Friday’s ceremony were Bryan County High School JROTC cadet commander Jailyn Morgan and the battalion’s cadet sergeant major, Chabravia Jernigan.
Morgan, a senior and an aspiring chef, served as master of ceremonies during the event, which included music from the Bryan County Middle and Bryan County High School’s combined chorus and band.
She said the salute is about saying thanks.
“We do this to show how much we care about all the people who have served and who are serving, and to show them they’re not just out there and nobody cares about them,” Morgan said. “It’s to give them recognition for what they’ve done.”
There was a good bit of military ceremony during the roughly hour-long salute, which included the JROTC color guard presenting the colors, an exhibition by the BCHS drill team and a ceremony put on by cadets to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Students and teachers read tributes to veterans and videos explained the importance of the sacrifices made by veterans throughout history, while also honoring family members who served.
Among the tributes read by students, some of whom could barely see over a podium in the high school’s gym, was a line from a youngster who asked, “What would we do if we didn’t have soldiers?” and then answered it, “We’d have to fight our own battles.”
Jernigan, a junior who plans to join the Navy and become a nurse, said honoring veterans was the school’s way of giving something back.
“It’s about us giving thanks to those who fought for us, and to show veterans how much they mean to us,” she said.
Bryan County High School’s JROTC program has roughly 80 cadets and is led by retired Lt. Col. Michael Hampton and retired Sgt. First Class Lorenza Ross.
Hampton spent five tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said he nation’s wars has reminded its citizens that “freedom isn’t free.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve, grateful to be here, grateful to be alive,” he said. “I think I understand now more than ever how important it is to honor our veterans. Again, freedom isn’t free.”
Harmon said he and his cadets know today’s servicemen and women are “standing on the backs” of those who served in the past.
“Because of them we are where we are at today, in a free society, with so many opportunities,” he said. “There are a lot of kids in Iraq and Afghanistan would love to be in their shoes.”
Morgan, who is not sure yet whether she intends to go into the military, said one of the best things about Friday’s salute to veterans was the way students wanted to be involved.
“The cool thing is to have young people want to do it and not have to be forced into it,” she said. “And to make it about the veterans. We’re not doing this for us. We’re doing it for them.”
The JROTC department is also holding a food drive through
Afterward, cadets hung ribbons at the school’s Honor Wall honoring those who served. The ribbons are $1 each and will go to help pay for JROTC programs. Contact Lynn King at the school’s JROTC booster program for more information.
In addition, the school and its JROTC program are collecting food items as part of a food drive. For more information, call the school.