By Chris Johnson
Students at David L. Rahn Junior High were honored to have Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Newman at their school last week.
Newman, a member of the Illinois National Guard since he enlisted in 1985, was the guest speaker during a Veteran's Day program Nov. 6.
"I originally joined to go to college, and I had my parents sign my enlistment forms when I was only 17," he said. "A year later I went to basic training."
This idea of joining quickly changed when Newman began working with his fellow soldiers.
"You form bonds when you are in the military and these bonds are greater than any others," he said. "I wanted to be by their side."
Newman returned from Afghanistan in May after serving oversees for a year.
"We are currently moving out of the country," Newman said. "But there are still casualties occurring in Afghanistan.
He talked about a soldier that gave his life to save Afghanistan police during a mission.
"The soldier is a fallen warrior," said Newman. "When he was flown to another hospital his buddies insisted on going with so he would not fly alone."
Before this deployment Newman had the opportunity to retire from the military.
"I could have retired but my daughter said 'go, because you can make things better,'" said Newman.
This bond between the soldiers, Newman said, is something that stays with a soldier his entire life.
He continues to be in contact with soldiers from basic training.
"We make big sacrifices by joining the military, but the biggest sacrifices and hardship are for the families left at home," he said. "The families at home cover the slack. Do not forget about the families."
Newman is a father of four. He has three children, Nick, Abby, and Andrew are students at Oregon High School. His oldest son Garrett graduated from OHS last year and is now at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
"I have missed birthdays, school events and Garrett's entire senior year," said Newman. "I also did not get to have conversations with my family every day."
Fortunately for Newman the internet has made it easier to keep in contact with his family.
"I had Skype so I could talk to my family," he said. "Mail is the most important thing for a soldier however. A letter is something you always have with you."
Returning home after any deployment was a happy occasion but apprehensive at the same time for Newman.
"When I returned home I was apprehensive because I was going for 12 months," he said. "What relationship would I have with my family? Life continues while we are gone."
He said that is one aspect many people do not realize about the life of an enlisted soldier.
"Leaving home was the toughest challenge for me," he said.
Newman joked that his day was repetitive and often boring.
"My typical day would be a 5 a.m. breakfast and then watching the battlefield all day long until 9 at night," he said. "The next day I would do it all over."
There was free time for the soldiers, and they usually took the time to work out or watch movies that were sent by friends and family back home.
Some of the movies were sent by the junior high students last year.
Newman encouraged the students to open their eyes and look at the veterans that are in their communities and thank them for their service.
"Veterans have a wealth of knowledge and they have seen a lot," he said.
Newman has earned the Bronze Star for two separate events.
The first was for his units work during the Iraq elections to keep the polling places safe and secure.
The second was for his units response to eliminating 26 insurgents during a single strike.