Some Fenton teachers who are helping children learn about reading, math and science are also leading by example when it comes to honor, freedom and bravery.
In addition to helping shape the minds of our youth, three Fenton teachers have also served our country and fought for our freedom.
As many will celebrate Veterans Day Sunday, it is a time for solemn reflection to remember those who served our country honorably and fought for our collective ideals. It is also an opportunity for many to support military personnel who are currently active in the reserves, at domestic military bases and at overseas posts.
Todd Mills has always liked the aspect of serving his country. The 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Andrew G. Schmidt Middle School signed up after high school, going in as an enlisted soldier and joining the ROTC at Central Michigan University.
Commissioned as an officer, he is a major who helps transform new recruits into strong soldiers at Fort Benning.
He said he was scheduled to ship out with his unit back in 2006-07, but it was decided that he, and other trainers, would continue their training mission.
Mills enjoys his role in preserving freedom, making it possible for people to have the ability to make their own choices.
“I take pride in what I do,” he said.
Overseas to the classroom
Like Mills, Fenton High School teacher Steve Collins has talked about his service with students on occasion. Collins, a science teacher, has had many interesting experiences in Iraq, where he spent a year, and in Kenya, where he was stationed for a year.
Collins said he has felt a little guilt over not being deployed to Afghanistan to assist with efforts there, but that wasn’t in the cards for him. In fact, he never even thought he would spend almost 30 years in the military at all.
When he enlisted in October 1983, Collins was mostly interested in earning money for graduate school.
“I thought I would just spend a couple of years,” he said.
However, pride in serving his country, the sense of satisfaction from completing missions, the unique camaraderie with fellow military personnel and unconditional support from his family kept him involved in military service.
Assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, Collins was active for two years before joining the National Guard. From there he was commissioned as an officer and transferred to the Army Reserves where he serves as a lieutenant colonel. During this time, he began substitute teaching and discovered a passion for teaching. He went back to school and decided to make teaching his permanent career.
After 9/11, Collins knew he would be deployed and he and his family were prepared for it. He said he is proud of his service in the military and proud of the job the team did on its missions.
Today he is also proud of his students and family, where one of his sons is starting his first year at West Point.
This is a great country
State Road Elementary fourth grade teacher Stefanie Roberts has been deployed overseas four times in 10 years, heading to tours of duty in Cuba, Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. She returned from her last mission in Afghanistan on March 5.
She said being stationed overseas helps put into perspective how much people have here in America.
“This is a great country,” Roberts said.
She was compelled to enlist after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The idea of serving wasn’t new to Roberts, who said she grew up in a military family.
She placed calls to various branches of the armed forces to see what she could do to help in the days following 9/11. After the Army responded, Roberts, then 31, enlisted.
She had a strong desire to serve her country, but also wanted to keep teaching, so she found that the Reserves was the perfect solution for her.
When she was first called for deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Roberts sought advice from others in her unit who were Persian Gulf veterans. On her last mission, she was company commander, working hard to make sure troops were safe.
Whether in the classroom or on active military duty, Roberts enjoys her leadership roles.
Back at home, her friends, family, co-workers, students and State Road Elementary School family were taking care of her, showing their support by collecting items and sending snacks.
"It’s amazing how much licorice, sunflower seeds and other snack items are missed until there is no longer access to them," said Roberts.
A local Girl Scout troop sent nearly a hundred boxes of popular Girl Scout cookies. Her students wrote lots of letters and cards, which brought smiles to the faces of everyone in her unit when she shared them.
Roberts missed the children terribly when she was deployed, but liked the camaraderie among her unit. She said it was like having a third family in addition to her own family and her family at State Road Elementary.