MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
In the conference room of the Sheraton Hotel in Atlantic Beach, N.C., 170 teachers from across North Carolina found themselves on the other end of an educational experience Feb. 26.
No one in the large room even dared cough or whisper as all in attendance perched at the edge of their seats and listened to the soft-spoken Marine with the microphone.
“If it wasn’t for the Marine Corps, I wouldn’t be alive today. I truly believe that,” said Sgt. Josue A. Jimenez, brazenly fighting through brief flashes of emotion as the microphone pushed his words out to the anxious audience.
Jimenez, who spoke of how the Marine Corps afforded him the opportunity to escape gang violence in his hometown of Salinas, Calif., was one of 11 local service members who served on a panel to discuss life in the modern military with attendees of a seminar from the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The panel featured Marines and Sailors from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Coast Guardsman from nearby Coast Guard Station Fort Macon.
Jimenez, a communications/navigation/radar systems technician with Marine Electronic Warfare Squadron 1, said he appreciated the opportunity to share his story with the teachers of NCCAT.
The educators were on hand to attend a seminar on North Carolina’s place in World War II history, but they seemed to value the chance to learn about life in today’s ranks.
“This panel discussion reminded teachers that the students they are teaching today are the future leaders of our nation,” said Elizabeth A. Gillespie, a spokesperson for NCCAT. “That is where NCCAT plays a critical role in public education; NCCAT gives teachers new knowledge, skills, teaching methods, best practices and information to take back to their classrooms. The teachers in this seminar are more committed than ever to helping their students achieve success in the coming years.”
The service members’ backgrounds and stories varied greatly from why they joined the military to how they work to accomplish their respective missions.
Lance Cpl. Ashley N. Yochum, an administrative clerk with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, found herself alone on a stage full of men, facing an audience with a lot of questions about what the Marine Corps is like for a young woman.
“I love it – it’s a brotherhood,” Yochum told the curious crowd. “Marines, as it is, are known as ‘the few,’ but as women, we’re ‘the fewer,’ so I take great pride in putting on this uniform.”
After the 75-minute panel discussion, the service members interacted with the educators on a one-on-one basis, where they fielded more questions about military life.
Yochum said the teachers she spoke with had a lot of preconceived notions about the Marine Corps and what it was like for women in today’s military.
“I play a vital role in the Marine Corps,” Yochum said proudly, “and if someone thinks otherwise, it takes away from my ability to do my job.”
Senior Chief Andrew S. Ali, a senior chief hospital corpsman and the interim command master chief for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said oftentimes the only information the public learns about the military comes from the evening news, and the panel discussion was a great opportunity to put things in perspective for the teachers.
“They welcomed us with open arms and were eager to learn,” Ali said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to educate our educators. Teachers are mentors for our youth, so it helps to be able to tell them a story and perspective they’ve never heard.”
LaVeta Weatherington, who taught elementary and middle school in Greenville, N.C., for 36 years, said NCCAT seminars can renew the joy of learning in teachers and allow them to return to their classrooms feeling refreshed.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing the stories of the military personnel who came tonight.” Weatherington said. “I learned the military is not some far-way political machine. It’s made of real people from real communities who should be valued.”