GARDEN CITY, N.Y. --
Every year across the nation, high school seniors attend awards and graduation ceremonies. Valedictorians and scholarship awardees are recognized and honored by their communities and fellow students.
But in these ceremonies the thousands of young men and women who choose to enlist in the armed forces are largely ignored.
Kenneth Hartman, academic director of Drexel University Online and a United States Army veteran, wants that to change.
“What about kids who serve their country?” Hartman, a former member of the Cherry Hill, N.J., school board, said. “Nobody has done anything and that has to stop.”
Together with community members, guidance counselors and veterans, Hartman founded Our Community Salutes. The organization held its first recognition ceremony in 2009 in Cherry Hill, N.J.
“We have to be the first to say ‘thank you’ before it’s too late,” said Hartman.
More than 200 people attended the ceremony honoring 54 graduates. A second ceremony was held in Pittsburgh, which honored more than 150 students.
Hartman said these enlistees need to know their community supports them before they begin basic training.
In addition to supporting the future service members, the ceremonies also recognize their parents. Hartman says many parents have some uncertainty about their son or daughter’s career choice, but witness first-hand the large group of people who care about and support their student.
“It is critical (for the students and their families) to see they are joining an even larger family,” Hartman said.
Our Community Salutes’ support of enlistees’ parents goes a step further. The organization’s website provides “A Parent’s Guide to Education in the U.S. Armed Services.” The brochure encourages parents to assist their son or daughter in pursuing an education while on active duty.
Hartman said the brochure has had over 10,000 downloads from Our Community Salutes.
The program has expanded, with new chapters of Our Community Salutes in Brooklyn, N.Y., Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.
It has also seen far-reaching effects. According to Hartman, some military recruiters have seen a significant decrease in the attrition of new enlistees who attend the ceremony prior to attending recruit training.
Hartman also told the story of how a student who attended the ceremony found it gave him motivation while facing the rigors of Marine Corps recruit training.
Having heard of Our Community Salutes, in June 1, 2010, U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews was motivated to speak in the House of Representatives to honor 47 high school seniors from Camden County, N.J.
“At a time when many of their peers are looking forward to pursuing vocational training or college degrees, they instead have chosen to dedicate themselves to military service in defense of our country,” Andrews said. “We owe them, along with all those who serve our country, a deep debt of gratitude.”
For more information on Our Community Salutes, visit www.ourcommunitysalutes.com.