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Whitmer High School senior Rita Harris has started what she hopes will be a trend in her family. The 18-year-old student who has enlisted in the U.S. Army has encouraged her 17-year-old sister to join the service.
Miss Harris was just one of more than 100 recruits at the Valentine Theatre on Thursday night for Our Community Salutes of Toledo. The Blade-sponsored event honors northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan high school seniors or recent graduates who have enlisted in the Armed Forces.
Miss Harris said she weighed many factors for her decision.
“You go on your own, you know. You have to want it,” she said.
Her mother, Tiffany Grames, said she supported her fully.
“She came home and she was really excited. I’m excited,” Ms. Grames said, adding that her daughters have done well in school and are very energetic.
Miss Harris was also glad that joining would help her get college scholarships.
PHOTO GALLERY: Our Community Salutes of Toledo
Allison Seney, who enlisted in the Navy, also anticipated the scholarship benefits she is eligible for.
“I joined the Navy to pay for college,” the 2005 Sylvania Northview High graduate said.
The dynamics of her life changed when her father, former Sylvania mayor James Seney, died last year in a boat crash in Ontario, Canada, near the town of Kenora. She has been attending the University of Toledo, but decided to take a break.
Mark Peddicord, marketing manager for The Blade, said family can be one of the most important things for recruits.
“When you enlisted, so did mom and dad. ... It is a huge commitment,” he said.
Mr. Peddicord read a letter during the ceremony that he wrote to his nephew, Kenneth, when he joined the military, detailing how proud he was of the young man’s achievements.
Guest speaker Brig. Gen. Mark Stephens, director of joint staff for the Ohio Joint Force Headquarters, stressed the importance of goal-setting during his speech.
“The only thing that will hold you back from succeeding ... is you,” he said, urging the students to dream big.
Both General Stephens and event master of ceremonies, Lt. j.g. Haraz N. Ghanbari, military and media liaison for the University of Toledo, said the recruits honored Thursday night were in a minority who could meet the requirements for service. Lieutenant Ghanbari said less than 25 percent of all high school students qualify to serve.
Dubbing the students the “next great generation of heroes,” he told them they should feel honored.
The new recruits were given a commemorative challenge coin, which is given to a member of an organization to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale and foster community within units.
Deb Heban, career-technical education director for Washington Local Schools, was also honored with the 2013 General Colin L. Powell Service Award. The recognition is given to high school counselors “whose service, compassion and commitment serve as a wonderful example for us all,” event organizers said.
Besides helping jump-start the career search for many students, Brigadier General Stephens focused on the honor of the recruits.
“It’s also very heartwarming to see a ceremony like this. You should be especially proud of this decision,” he said.
Our Community Salutes began in 2009 in New Jersey to honor high school graduates who have committed to military service. Last year was the inaugural program in Toledo.
Contact Kelly McLendon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6522, or on Twitter @KMcBlade.