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New Jersey Group Honors High School Students Joining Military

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 4, 2009 – During this season of graduation celebrations, high school seniors heading off to college normally are held in high regard by their teachers, families and friends. Sometimes overlooked are those seniors choosing to bypass college to serve their country.

A man from Camden, N.J., started a crusade in his community to make sure these seniors also were recognized for their “honorable” career choice of joining the U.S. military.

“To join the military and serve your country is an awesome feat,” said Ken Hartman, founder of Our Community Salutes, a troop-support group. “To serve your country at a time of war says a lot about your character and how much you love your country. This should never go unnoticed. Many high schools do not recognize or honor these students. I want this to change.”

Hartman, also a member of the Cherry Hill School Board in Camden, decided to set up a committee and began mobilizing businesses, colleges, educators and veterans groups to plan and fund the county's first High School Enlistee Recognition Ceremony. The ceremony took place June 2, honoring 44 Camden County high school seniors who enlisted in the armed forces.

More than 220 people attended the event, including active duty servicemembers, veterans, college representatives, state lawmakers and special guest Army Maj. Gen. William Monk III, commanding general of the 99th Regional Support Command.

Many in attendance said the event was a success.

“These seniors have a tremendous challenge ahead of them,” said Army Lt. Col. Ronald Tuczak, commander of the Army Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Battalion. “[Considering] what they are about to undertake, what they are about to be charged with, this event can only inspire them. These kids need all the support they can get, especially from the start. I had to be a part of this. ”

Jennifer Grimaldi, a counselor at Haddonfield High School and past president of the Camden County School Counselors Association, also attended the event.

“This was a great opportunity for school counselors to show their support for these students,” Grimaldi said. “We really wanted to be a part of this. School counselors support these enlistees just like we support our students going off to college. Both groups will make a positive impact on our world.”

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Al Bancroft also wanted to thank the seniors’ families. “I have so much admiration for these young people,” he said. “Their families have given them the support they need to move forward, and I know they will continue to uplift them. I am very proud of all of them.”

A Marine Corps brass quartet performed for the reception, which was followed by a dinner ceremony. All parents of enlistees received the pamphlet, "A Parent's Guide to Education in the U.S. Armed Services." Each senior received a proclamation from the state senate and a commemorative gold coin.

“It was a tremendous evening,” Hartman said. “The combination of everyone that attended made it perfect for the seniors. This was a chance to recognize all of them before the start of their service. We will continue to do this each year, and hope other communities will follow.”

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