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New Richmond Middle School honors veterans

Dick Mier assisted with VFW Post 10818's flag folding demonstration at St. Mary's School on Thursday, Nov. 8.

The students at New Richmond Middle School spent a good chunk of their morning on Friday, Nov. 8, honoring veterans during the annual Veteran's Day program.

The program began at 8:15 a.m. in the school's gymnasium. New this year, Emilio Munoz, a bagpiper from the Twin Cities, silenced the room when he entered the gymnasium playing the bagpipes.

Each of the local veteran organizations played a part in the annual ceremony, with American Legion Post 80 presenting the colors and VFW Post 10818 presenting their flag folding demonstration.

Friday's keynote speaker, Rich Powers, a Marine and former staff sergeant from Ellsworth, spoke to the students about his experience serving his country and the sacrifices he made to do so.

"I said former staff sergeant, but you'll never hear me say former Marine," he told the students. "Once you become a Marine, you are a Marine for life."

Powers told the students that he served in the Marine Corps from June 6, 1995 until Oct. 6, 2002. He was deployed to Afghanistan on Sept. 18, 2001 to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Powers said he's often asked whether he lost anyone in Afghanistan and, remarkably, the answer is no.

"But I did lose people training to get ready for Afghanistan," he said. "Not a lot of people realize this, but every day you go to work for the military, you are making a sacrifice."

In one instance, Powers said six Marines were completing night training off the coast of North Carolina.

"They had their (night vision) helmets on and someone accidently turned on a light in the cabin," he said. "When you have your (night vision) helmets on and you turn on a light, you become blinded. In a panic to find the light switch, all crew members neglected to track their altitude and they crashed into the water at about 150 mph. The pilots in the front escaped to the emergency exit doors in the cockpit but all four crewmembers in the rear of the helicopter lost their lives. One of them was a friend of mine."

Powers said, in another case, one of his close friends was killed during a training session when the bomb he was assigned to drop on a test target didn't release from the jet wing and it exploded.

"Every day in the military presents hazards," he said.

At the time of Powers' deployment, his wife was six months pregnant, he said.

"It was a tough period for both of us," he said. "I was real excited to serve my country, but at the same time disappointed that I wouldn't be there for the birth of my daughter."

Three months later, while stationed off the coast of Pakistan, Powers found himself on the phone with his sister while his wife was delivering his child.

"She gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Peyton, and I was able to hear her first cry over the phone. Five days later I was on a helicopter flying into Kandahar International Airport while taking gunfire for three hours of it," Powers said. "It's tough to be away and miss events, but the sacrifice is worth it."

Powers said he often communicated with his father, a Vietnam veteran, while he was deployed. The two planned to sit down and swap war stories when he returned to the United States; however, four weeks before returning home, Powers' father was killed in a car accident.

"I was able to fly home to attend his funeral. What a mix of emotions," he said. "I would be able to see my wife, my son and meet my 3-month-old daughter; but, would also be attending the funeral of my father."

"This is not about my family and the sacrifices we made. We are one example," he said. "Think of all the families and all the military members over time and the sacrifices they made that have molded this country. You have many military sacrifices here in the gym today with our veterans present and their families. Without those sacrifices we would not enjoy the freedom and liberties we have."

After the Veteran's Day ceremony, guests were invited to view the displays in the Veterans Museum and listen to the stories of veterans in the school's War Rooms.