West schools' Veterans Day speaker urges service to 'those who can't give back'
U.S. Army Sergeant Major Tony Liles emphasized the concept of “service” in a speech to the combined student bodies of West Middle and Elementary schools Nov. 9.
The occasion in the gymnasium was the shared campus' annual Veterans Day assembly, which is open to the public.
Also featured was the Honor Guard from the American Legion's Centennial Post 209, which ceremonially presented and removed the colors (the United States and Colorado flags). According to Eric Testorff, an Air Force veteran and the post's Honor Guard captain, the post was established in 1976 (hence the name) and is the largest post in the state, with more than 1,000 members.
West Middle School Principal Shalah Sims and West Elementary Principal Karen Newton introduced Liles.
Over half of those years are from English teacher Deb Shipley (nearly 28 years in the Air Force) and building manager Walter Gray (20 years in the Army).
Liles currently serves as senior leader for the Fort Carson Military Personnel Division. His initial enlistment in 1995 was as an aviation operations specialist. He has since served multiple tours in America's War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“You are all leaders of tomorrow,” Liles told the students, then educated them about the start of Veterans Day. It was originally Armistice Day, recognizing the political agreement that officially ended World War I fighting on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
For the students, Liles expanded the usual definition of military service - not just defending American freedom but “contributing to a better life for someone else,” particularly “those who have nothing to give back.”
Part of his talk touched on special “challenge coins,” stemming from his time in Afghanistan. These are given to those who provide selfless service, he said - "all they need is a heart of grace” (quoting from Martin Luther King).
In giving one such coin each to three school-selected West Middle students - Zhyler Gilbert (7th grade), Lilly Perry (7th grade) and Judson Brau (8th grade) - Liles challenged all the West students “to do something to improve their community.”
Westside Pioneer article