ALLISON - Every year around Veterans Day, students and staff at North Butler Middle School roll out the red carpet for men and women who served.
The tradition, in its 10th year, continued Tuesday, and seventh- and eighth-grade students honored 45 veterans, reservists and those on active duty. The tribute included music, art and accolades. Students in fourth through sixth grade and members of the community also attended.
Students and staff at North Butler spend weeks preparing a program that is different from year to year, said organizer Mary Beck, a science teacher.
"This is the biggest one yet," Beck said.
During the ceremony, students demonstrated how to fold an American flag and held up banners representing different branches of the military. The program also recognized Sgt. 1st Class Richard Morgan for his service in Afghanistan.
Students read letters from soldiers who fought in the Civil War, Vietnam and other conflicts. A slide show set to patriotic music displayed photographs of family and friends who served in the military.
Guest speaker and retired Sgt. Maj. Bernard Franken appreciated the gesture. The students' display of discipline also impressed the 34-year veteran of the Army National Guard.
"I thought this was very special," Franken said.
In addition to honoring veterans, the program helps students understand that freedoms and rights aren't a given, said Dan Huff, principal at the middle school.
"These don't just happen to exist," he said. "We want students, when they leave here, to know that it takes sacrifice."
After the ceremony, veterans visited classrooms to answer questions about their experiences. One student wanted to know veterans' reasons for joining the military, another wondered about correspondence.
Kerry Hinders of Greene, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, sought adventure. William Bohlen enlisted out of a sense of duty after a brother-in-law was killed in France. He spent time in the South Pacific and also Pearl Harbor.
"And I didn't really want to go into any of ‘em fox holes, so I joined the Navy," Bohlen said.
Hinders was stationed in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the early 90s. She said her best assignment involved flood relief work in the U.S. The humanitarian aspect of the military is often under recognized, she added, noting the military is about more than fighting.
"It's about helping your country," Hinders said.
School staff also had a treat for the students this year.
Members of the Iowa Army National Guard based in Waterloo arrived in style. Guardsmen with C Company, 211th Medical Battalion, landed a Blackhawk helicopter in a field near the school. Students then took turns touring the helicopter, recently back from Iraq.
"I think it's cool how they have all the buttons, the ‘spinny' things," said Morgan Hagen, 13, of Allison.
The helicopter offered the kids a real-world connection kids, guardsman Matthew Smaldino said, and the kids "go crazy" over it.
Smaldino said war stories can seem like ancient history to students, but appearances from those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan keep the issues current for young people.
"They understand what's happening now," Smaldino said.
The North Butler program recently received the U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute Commendation. The program recognizes those who make significant contributions to supporting the U.S. Army's mission and its soldiers.