Service Members Discuss Patriotism, Freedom on School's National Web Cast
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 30, 2002 A soldier, a Marine and an Air Force bomber pilot discussed patriotism and freedom with middle school students nationwide during an unusual April 30 Web cast here.
"Bertie Backus Middle School in Washington, D.C., is doing something that's never been done before," the moderator, ABC television reporter Cokie Roberts told the packed auditorium.
"We're going to be talking to thousands of middle school students simultaneously about freedom and patriotism and what it means to kids today," she said. "We're doing it live in this auditorium, live on the Internet, and live on satellite television to schools across America -- all at the same time!"
"We're going to be talking about some important things today -- like the kind of values that make our country strong and what it means to be free," Roberts told the audience. "We're going to ask you to think about what you can do to make America a better place."
The program, called "Celebration of Patriotism," went over the Web to 14 middle schools nationwide. Anyone with Internet access also could watch by visiting the Together for Freedom Web site, www.TogetherForFreedom.org. An encore presentation can be viewed May 13 at 11 a.m. EDT.
The Marine Corps Color Guard presented the colors, followed by Bertie Backus seventh grader Ayanna Reed singing the national anthem.
Military panelists were Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a DoD public affairs officers; Air Force 1st Lt. Kathryn "Kate" M. Gries, who flew B1-B bomber combat missions over Afghanistan with the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; and Army Ranger Sgt. LaShaun O'Neal Lawery of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga. Lawery was part of the first offensive action of Operation Enduring Freedom and participated in a combat parachute assault onto Objective Rhino on Oct. 19, 2001.
Gries told the audience about being a B1-B co-pilot and emphasized that today, "Every opportunity is available to women on the warfighting team."
Asked what freedom means to her, Gries responded, "Freedom means you can choose what you want to do." She added that she was able to become a bomber pilot because of freedom in America, but also noted, "Along with freedom comes responsibility, not only to preserve it, but to appreciate it."
She said that could be done by choosing a career of service or in small ways every day by everyone by sending messages of support.
Lawery, an infantry team leader, said after participating in Enduring Freedom, he came to realize how fortunate he is.
"We have a lot of rights in America," he said. "Over there, they're told what to think, what to say and how to act, whereas here we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and so on. I'd thought about those things before, but they didn't really hit me until after I came back from Afghanistan."
"Freedom is something we can't take for granted. It's an incredible gift," Lapan emphasized. He said the armed forces and many other people over the years preserved the freedoms Americans enjoy today. He said he hopes that when his two-year-old daughter is old enough, she'll realize that he fought "to preserve freedom so she grows up in a country that's free like the one I enjoy."
The military panelists were joined by commercial airline pilot Tom Heidenberger, whose wife of 29 years, Michele, was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 77 when it slammed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001; Jeremy O'Keefe, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is currently directing a theatrical event he created called "Patriot: An Exercise in Freedom." Two students on the panel were eighth grader Adam Popp of Corporate Landing Middle School, Virginia Beach, Va., and Heather Davis, a junior at Ocean Lakes High School, also in Virginia Beach.
"Adam and Heather are here today," Roberts told the audience, "because Adam's father and Heather's stepfather both are in the Navy and are serving aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, which is an aircraft carrier deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom."
After asking the young people several questions about their dads and what freedom means to them, Roberts said, "We have a video surprise for both of you." Messages from both of their fathers were played on the large movie screen in the auditorium.
The panel discussion was followed by about 20 minutes of questions and answers from the audience and via e-mail.
After the Web cast, Doro Bush Koch, President Bush's sister, said she and a group of people formed Together for Freedom because they wanted to do something after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
"We felt that the greatest gift of America is the gift of freedom," Koch said. "We wanted to promote patriotism and educate students to understand that freedom is a gift. So we created this panel and have gone to middle school children all over the country -- all over the world, really, in hopes that they'll get a better understanding of what freedom means to them."
Koch said middle school children were selected because "they're just the right age before they're making important decisions and choices in their lives. So we thought it was a good time to educate them on patriotism."
Together for Freedom's event co-sponsors were the Compaq Computer Corp., Sorenson Media, and the Department of Defense.