Veterans Share Their Stories in Light of National Holiday

RMHS security guard James Steiner, School Resource Officer Chris Danner, and former RMHS Associate Principal Arturo Senteno share their stories as veterans of the war in Iraq.

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Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally established as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I. However, at the urging of numerous veterans’ service organizations and after World War II and the Korean War, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

The holiday is intended to honor and convey gratitude towards all the military personnel who served the United States. While some schools are closed on Veterans Day, others (including  all District 214 schools) remain in assembly, hoping to provide students with an education and a sense of appreciation surrounding veterans and their importance in protecting our country and individual liberties.

However, as many teachers plan their curriculums and attempt to fit in different units and chapters before finals, the sentiment behind Veterans Day can get lost amidst different formulas, Shakespearean plays or lab experiments. 

An important reminder for all students and teachers is that there are many veterans among us, including those now employed in non-military jobs or retired who would be willing to share their experiences with others. Three veterans willing to open up who are related to RMHS are security guard James Steiner, School Resource Officer (SRO) Chris Danner, and former Associate Principal Arturo Senteno.

STEINER

After witnessing the events of 9/11 unfold in front of his eyes as a senior in high school, Steiner was compelled to take action and eight days after the tragedy, he was officially enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. 

“I joined the Marine Corps because I knew I would deploy right away and I wanted to train with the best fighting force in the world,” Steiner said. After enduring training which was extremely challenging both physically and mentally, Steiner truly felt accomplished when he graduated from boot camp and earned his title as Marine. He was grateful to share that moment with his family members who he marched in front of during the ceremony.

Steiner had two combat deployments to Iraq from 2003 to 2004 and 2005 to 2006. During his deployments, Steiner took on several roles. He was a radio operator in charge of security for convoys, patrols and medEvacs. Steiner was also a convoy security instructor, combat Emergency medical technician (EMT) and a green belt training instructor. These roles exposed Steiner to combat meaning he was a witness to bloodshed and poverty.

“I saw combat in both tours and at points, we were mortared multiple times [in a day for] long stretches,” Steiner said. “I recall during [my] first convoy, the air force rushed past us and got blown up on a bridge [that] we were supposed to cross. [We had] to sit out on patrol in the middle of a town outside Fallujah for hours waiting on an alternate route. [Another time when] convoying [I saw] kids play soccer around old blown-up tanks while begging for food.”

When deployed, it was difficult for Steiner to reach out to his family because often communications would be down due to next of kin calls for fallen troops. Letters and care packages were an option but minimally utilized because they took too long to send either way. However, in the end, it was his family that made Steiner return home.  He wanted to meet his newborn son.

“The day my service ended was bittersweet because I was saying goodbye to the only life I knew,” Steiner said. “If not for my kids, I probably would have made a career out of [serving for the Marine Corps.]”

Steiner’s experiences and memories have impacted many aspects of his life. His personal beliefs and his daily approach to life have all been influenced by his time served as a Marine. 

“My experiences definitely affected my belief about war and [the] military,” Steiner said. I believe war is a necessary evil to help the people that can’t help themselves. I saw a lot of good come out of my time overseas and now we have one more democratic country helping to change a region of mass chaos.”

Now as a member of the RMHS community, Steiner hopes that students develop an understanding and appreciation of current military members serving to protect, as well as seek to understand the veterans who may be experiencing a difficult time re-adjusting to civilian life. 

“22 veterans a day take their own lives–on average. I have lost at least a dozen [of veterans who I knew] myself and know many that struggle daily. So when you see that homeless vet on the street thank them [and] be kind. They’re not just lazy or drug addicts; they are struggling with coping and have a lot more going on that you can’t see.”

DANNER

Like Steiner, Chris Danner became interested in joining the military after 9/11. The terrorist attacks on the lives of innocent Americans compelled Danner to do anything he possibly could to help the country during a critical period of time.

Danner initially set out to join the AirForce due to two other family members having careers as airmen but was sought out by a Marine recruiter who convinced him to join the Marine Corps. He then enlisted into the Marines as a 17-year-old in high school. 

The next 13 weeks spent in boot camp were the hardest times Danner had faced in his life up to that point. 

“[U.S. Marine Corps. boot camp] was the toughest thing that I had been through in my life, but it made me a better person,” Danner said. “[The training is] broken down into three phases. The first phase being the toughest as the drill instructors are trying to strip you of all the bad habits that you have learned in the civilian world in order to “build you up” as a Marine. The second phase is a little better and is mostly spent on the rifle range and working on [a] drill. The third phase is the point at which the drill instructors teach you how to be a Marine. They never refer to you as a Marine until the day that you graduate. You also don’t refer to yourself as anything but “recruit” up until graduation.”

After completing his training and receiving the title of Marine, Danner was deployed to western Iraq in the Al-Anbar province region from July 2005 to March 2006. He was situated in motor transport, meaning his role mostly consisted of being part of a convoy security unit in which he operated a Humvee. 

Danner’s morale was held up by his fellow Marines and friends that he made within the branch. These friends made it hardest for him to say goodbye to his life as a Marine.

“I remember the day that I checked out of my unit like it was yesterday,” Danner said. “It was a feeling of mixed emotions as I was ready to start the next phase of my life, but I was also sad to leave behind some of the friends that I [had] made.”

After leaving the military, Danner began to test to become a certified police officer. He had already met the education requirements because he used his GI Bill and took online college courses while still enlisted.

The military and his experiences as a Marine shaped Danner’s life to what it is today. He matured quickly and at a young age due to his training and service and received a quality education and career due to the success of his service. 

As a veteran, Danner continues to appreciate the other veterans who came before him and hope students will follow his lead.

“[On Veterans Day, I hope students] appreciate the sacrifices of those that came before me,” Danner said. “Even as a veteran, I use the holiday to reflect on particularly those who gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.” 

SENTENO

In January 1998, Senteno chose to join the military as an alternative to pay for his college tuition. He chose to enter the Army National Guard, motivated by having other friends who had joined as well as the fact that this particular service branch offered him the most money for his tuition. Senteno did not attend boot camp until June due to his studies.

“I remember boot camp being very uncomfortable and I never liked it, but I was glad when it was over,” Senteno said. “I felt a sense of accomplishment.”

Senteno furthered his training by attending Officer Candidate Training and Air Assault School (OCS). By completing this course, Senteno received formal commissions as a U.S. Army Officer. Becoming an officer meant leading others under intense mental and emotional stress. 

Senteno was deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2005 with the 1st Infantry Division US Army. During his deployment, his platoon was involved in several combat missions. To alleviate the stress from missions and receive comfort, he would write letters and make a phone call home once a week to talk to his loved ones. 

After returning home, Senteno’s perspectives changed as they were heavily impacted by his service and experiences whilst deployed. 

“Things back here do not seem like an emergency if everyone is able to go home at night, Senteno said.“I am extremely grateful for the simple things we have. I hope that students are able to appreciate the wonderful freedoms we all have here in the US and those rights and privileges are not free. They come and came at a cost. Some servicemen and women make the ultimate sacrifice to provide freedom to Americans.”

TAKEAWAY

It was not until 2014 that Veterans Day was approved and considered as a full in-class day for students. Former school board president (and current school board member) Bill Dussling, who was also a veteran of the Vietnam War, strongly encouraged holding school on the national holiday. He believed that it was a disservice for students to have the day off because it did not allow them to become more educated about the importance or meaning behind the holiday.

While the true meaning of the holiday can be debated, as gathered from the three veterans who shared their stories, it is about remembering that Americans are granted freedoms due to the sacrifices and courage of men and women willing to serve to protect our country and its principles. We should not forget to appreciate and respectfully honor veterans and those who are currently serving as they have sacrificed and done more for our country to protect our freedoms than we can possibly understand.

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