Unity in uniform
Three veterans share their stories
Veterans Day celebrates and honors American soldiers who were discharged after serving in the military, which is a commitment beyond what many realize. Values such as discipline, endurance and strength are expected to be sharpened in order for soldiers to risk their lives for their country.
Here’s a deeper look into a few veterans with Hebron ties who demonstrate that being in the military can establish a sense of unity and service persistent in their lives wherever they go:
U.S. History Teacher and Surface Warfare Officer Veteran Betsy Allee
Betsy Allee was the first woman in her family to join the military, despite coming from a generation of veterans. However, it was not an easy road to get there. She had to switch to nine different schools in the first 16 years of her life because her father was in the Navy. She then attended The United States Naval Academy for college, where she would finally receive a commission to join the Navy.
“I didn’t always think about joining the Navy, but when I was recruited [to swim], I knew enough about it that I wasn’t afraid to say yes,” Allee said. “Out of all my colleges I was recruited to go to, it was the most prestigious [and] academically challenging. If I didn’t take this opportunity, it was a window that would never open again.”
During her military service, Allee operated aviation facilities, small boats, the cafeteria and the maintenance of the exterior of the ship. She had to do six month deployments, be at the ship by 6:37 a.m., spend a lot of time away from home, travel and work a full day. But Allee said this experience taught her a lot that shaped her past and present.
“If I didn’t have the opportunity with the Navy, I [could not have] seen so many places, so many cultures, tasted so many amazing foods, seen the best art [and] seen the most impressive historical sights in the world,” Allee said. “[The navy] taught me to work hard.”
Alee said a huge part of her experience was the people around her. A notable experience was when she was in the deck division. There, she was surrounded by other hard workers, people who came from different cultures and were just grateful to be able to serve. She was inspired by how there were people still willing to stand up and perform a need for their country. Her fellow soldiers helped make the military a home away from home for her.
“When you deploy, [the military] literally becomes your family because you’re detached from your traditional family or ‘conventional’ family back home,” Allee said. “And you do form really tight bonds with those people, because we have that shared experience that is really unique.”
Though Allee enjoyed her time in the military, many around her were being called to Iraq or Afghanistan. She was also starting a family, so she chose to leave and was faced with a decision that most veterans also face: What’s next? Her eventual decision to begin a teaching career started with a childhood poem that she enjoyed.
“Teaching was something I always thought I would do,” Allee said. “Before the coach from the Naval Academy called me and [asked] ‘Do you want to come swim for us?’ I was going to become an education major and a teacher. It felt like, to quote Robert Frost, ‘taking the road less traveled.’”
Allee said her experience in the military still impacts her now. It helps her in communicating with others because she’s learned that a team is about supporting, valuing and compromising with other people.
She said it has made her more service oriented – she always strives to better her country and citizenry around her, and not focus so much on the amount of money she can make or the social status she can achieve. She believes it is important for students to know the veterans in their communities and honor them for their service in the military.
“It’s important for [students] to know who in their community made that exceptional choice,” Allee said. “There are [students] who may not know anyone in the military. [Those students] can hear [veterans’ point of view] and it adds to the mosaic of their understanding, of their world, and their community and their country.”
Commander of the JROTC and Weapons Officer Veteran Eduardo Morales
Eduardo Morales was once a kid who only heard stories about the military from his uncles who were in the Navy. He enlisted out of high school when he was 18 and eventually served for 34 years in the Navy, where he was responsible for all the ammunition on the aircraft carrier and had about 400 sailors who worked under him.
“There was a whole lot of nothing in El Paso, and I used to hear stories from my uncles, who were in the Navy, [which] really piqued my interest because of the travel and the opportunities,” Morales said. “I wanted to go out to sea, and I wanted to see the world that way.”
After being in the Navy for two years, he was transferred to a deployable squadron where he worked at the base. He traveled from the Philistines to Diego Garcia with what he said was the whitest sands and bluest waters — a paradise. That’s when he realized the Navy was where he belonged.
“That’s it,” Morales said. “I was hooked.”
Morales went on to experience major events such as 9/11 in the Northern Arabian Sea, which led to an abrupt launching of 80 aircrafts into Afghanistan. This event was something he would never forget, and also the reason he owns a signature from Garth Brooks and shook hands with President George W. Bush. He also provided humanitarian aid to the Japanese: searching, rescuing and recovering. Now, after having left the military, Morales described his experience in two words.
“No regrets,” Morales said. “I met a lot of interesting people, [experienced] different languages [and ate] different foods. All the things in school I studied, I got to experience in real life.”
Another notable aspect of Morales’s military days was the people he met in the Navy. They were his ship mates who worked with him, ate lunch and dinner with him, went to the gym with him and because of that, they emulated family for him.
“We’re family,” Morales said. “Because our family isn’t there, you really build those relationships. It’s one of the things I miss about the military. The camaraderie.”
Now, Morales is a commander in the JROTC program at Hebron, where he tries to instill a sense of honor, courage and commitment into his students. Though some do join the military in the future, Morales said the program is primarily about citizenship values and developing a good character. And one of the most important values to Morales is gratitude, which he learned after being in the military.
“Be humble and be thankful for what you have,” Morales said. “A lot of people take things for granted, like your families. But when you’re separated from them for a while and put in harm’s way, you learn about being thankful.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Veteran William Kushnir
For William Kushnir— father-in-law of assistant principal Jackie Kushnir—his military career started at the hip new restaurant, Robbies. Fresh out of high school, Kushnir found himself lost and unsure of what to do for his future. That was until a friend brought up joining the Navy which, in his situation, seemed like the next best step.
“[My friend] informed me that he joined the Navy,” Kushnir said. “So, [I told him] that sounds like a great plan and that was about all the planning that went into that.”
Due to his financial situation, Kusnir’s parents did not go to college or high school, so he was the first of his family to receive a high school diploma. This was a reason he didn’t think about going to college and why joining the Navy was such a huge step for him. As he went on to graduate from Sonar school and join the fleet, there was a flip in his mindset.
“Once I got into service, I had to really use my brain,” Kushnir said. “It showed me that you can do it if you have to. And when I started getting promotions, I really started to enjoy that promise. There was a sense of accomplishment, which planted into my head that you can be successful even at a blue collar level.”
Kushnir experienced major events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and parts of the Cold War first hand, face-to-face with the dread that the world felt in that age of war. He said this formed him into the person he is today, and when he left the military, he went on to achieve great things, such as having his own company, becoming the vice president and president of that company, and eventually writing his own book: “Henley,” a curation of all his greatest experiences being in the Navy. He said he could not believe how far he had come.
“When you write a book, look at it in your hands, and have people asking you to sign it. [You ask yourself] ‘Is this really happening?’” Kushnir said.
Kusnir also spoke at the school’s Veterans Day event last year, where he was able to display how far he went – from being a clueless kid to an accomplished veteran. He said he appreciates the values the military taught him because they apply to his daily life.
“All [veterans] understand how to be under orders [and] take orders,” Kushnir said. ”There’s a discipline that’s involved when you’re in the service that, frankly, stays with you for the rest of your life. The camaraderie and the sense of accomplishment, [along with] serving your country, is a huge benefit.”