By Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, November 8, Mispillion Elementary School held their annual Veteran’s Day Celebration. Students invited currently serving military members and veterans to the school where they heard a presentation by Commander Heath Gehrke who serves in the U.S. Navy. After the presentation, they enjoyed refreshments and were able to talk to the students about their service.
Commander Gehrke graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy and has served in the U.S. Navy for over 24 years. He currently serves aboard the Cape May Lewes Ferry. During his presentation, he showed photos of the various types of ships used in the military, such as air craft carriers, tankers and submarines.
“The ships I serve on are usually cargo ships, delivering oil, diesel fuel and jet fuel to various areas the Navy serves,” Commander Gehrke said. He works in the Strategic Sealift area which transports equipment and keeps the flow of goods moving throughout the military. “I currently work on the ferry and many people are not aware that if there is a military emergency, the ferry can be called into service. There are people on the ships that become part of the Navy if there is ever a need.”
Commander Gehrke has travelled all over the world to places like Singapore, Naples and South Korea. He said that traveling was one of the best things about his job as he got to see many beautiful places around the world. One of the reasons he decided to go into the military was because he knew he wanted to go to sea and that his original plan was to be a ship captain.
After the presentation, the students were able to talk to the veterans who had come to school as invited guests. Sim Stiffler, who served in the Air Force, was at the event with his daughter, Nori. Nori shared that her father often talks about how they had to do things in the Air Force and how it was probably a lot different today.
“These kinds of programs are necessary,” Mr. Stiffler said. “It is important for the kids to know what it is like to serve your country and to support those who went off to fight for freedoms.”
Summer Shaw invited her grandfather, Ted Walius, who served in the U.S. Navy. Mr. Walius said programs like the one held at Mispillion Elementary not only let young children gain an understanding of what veterans experienced in the service but also gives them options after high school. Dave Kabina, who retired from the Air Force, was at the event with his grandson, Adrian Cortez.
“I’ve been to this a few times and it gets better each time,” Mr. Kabina said. “It opens the kids up to what the military is about. It gives them a chance to know some of the different aspects of the military.”
Ethan Parke brought his mother, Geri Crippen, who served in the Army. As a single mother in the service, the Army helped her a lot, allowing her to sometimes bring her children with her to work when she had child care issues. Ethan plans to join the Army when he is old enough after seeing what his mother did in the service. “It’s really cool that my mom was in the Army,” he said. “It looks like fun and I want to go into the Army when I am old enough.”
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