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First Lady Rallies Crowd Around Troops to Teachers Program

By Brett Turner
Special to American Forces Press Service

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Oct. 17, 2002 – The birthplace of aviation became a launching pad for new career possibilities Oct. 16 as first lady Laura Bush spoke here about the Defense Department's Troops to Teachers program.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
First lady Laura Bush speaks to Air Force members about the Defense Department's Troops to Teachers program. The rally at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on Oct. 16, 2002, drew 1,300 service members. Photo by Spencer P. Lane.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

During the rally, the first lady recognized educators and the potential roles departing military members can play in education. About 1,300 people attended, including base, local and state leaders; members of Congress; and Troops to Teachers participants and their students.

As a former teacher, Bush's enthusiasm for the program was evident. "Our children are the future," she told the crowd. "Ensuring that they have the best education possible and the chance to realize their dreams is our greatest obligation.

"As soldiers, you pledged yourself to duty, honor and country -- and your service will never be forgotten," she continued. "Today, I ask you to pledge yourselves to our children, the future of this country. I ask our retiring men and women to answer a new call -- the call to teach."

The Troops to Teachers program assists select people who want to begin a career in public education upon departing the military. It began in 1994, and nearly 4,000 veterans have been hired into the nation's schools since. Last January, the program was authorized to continue for five more years through the No Child Left Behind Act.

Teachers Eusebio Bretado Jr. of El Paso, Texas, William Byrd of Madison, Ala., and Michael Glaze of Beaufort, S.C., were cited as successful examples of Troops to Teachers participants. Each received awards at the rally for excellence in teaching.

Two teachers in nearby Dayton, Ohio, Greg Powell and Melvin Early, are Air Force retirees who left Wright-Patterson and went into Troops to Teachers. They are the types of role models being sought for the program, Bush said, "And Wright-Patterson has no shortage of them.

"Members of the military have always been tremendous role models. You possess the greatest in character, commitment and resolve. And today, our children need those qualities more than ever," she said.

In an interview with a base newspaper reporter, Bush said Wright- Patterson was an easy choice for the presentation.

"We really wanted to be here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for this event," she said. "Today, we heard some really wonderful stories about teachers in the Ohio area. We really picked Ohio today because of Wright-Patt."

Teaching may not be for everyone, Bush said. It can be trying and takes patience. Those who think it's about having summers and holidays off could be surprised, she said.

"I think really good teachers are people who know that they really want to help people," she said. "And if you know you want to help people and work well with people, that's what teaching's all about. And I think you can probably become a pretty good teacher."

Besides her advocacy of Troops to Teachers, Bush is heavily involved in promoting several educational and reading programs around the country. She taught second-, third- and fourth-graders in Texas and said she missed the work. She also admitted it wasn't always easy, but few professions were as rewarding as teaching when you succeed.

"Those years were very satisfying," she said. "Teaching might be very difficult, but there's also never a boring moment when you have 20 little kids around you all the time."

(Brett Turner works in the Aeronautical Systems Center Public Affairs Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.)

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