As the assembly opened with the pledge to the American flag, a strong sense of pride echoed through the Westmont Elementary School cafeteria as guests and pupils honored the country's veterans during their annual Veterans Day ceremony.
"Freedom is not free," said Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Maher, the event's guest speaker. "Somebody has to pay for it and it was your veterans who paid for it."
That message was heard throughout schools in the area, but it was a message that reverberated deep into the hearts of one family whose father was nearing the end of his two-week leave from the war in Iraq.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Mitchell Jr. was home on leave during the Westmont assembly and attended the event with his wife, Dearea, and father, Michael Mitchell Sr., of Texas, by his side.
"It was uplifting," said Mrs. Mitchell of the ceremony. "Being a single parent is not fun."
Mrs. Mitchell knows all about military life. She spent seven years in the Army Nurse Corps, another five in the Army Reserve and is currently listed as inactive ready reserve. Plus, her husband has been in the Army for 21 years and is on his second deployment to the Middle East.
"The first time, to Desert Storm, was a shorter deployment," said Mitchell, who works as an Army medic. His current deployment, which began six months ago and will last for a total of 15 months, will bring him home for good in August 2008.
"It's really hard any time someone in your family goes over there," said Mitchell's father. "It's not the cause, but just the unknown. I think what he's doing is great."
It is the support from family and friends which helps a soldier endure times of loneliness when they are deployed.
But Mitchell said the family has celebrated a lot of events prematurely so he won't feel left out. For instance, his own birthday, which is just days later than his return to Iraq, along with Thanksgiving and Christmas, arrived a little early.
"We try to do as much as possible while he's home," said Mrs. Mitchell. The family includes daughters Jasmin, 5, and Amanda, 7, both pupils at Westmont; Ashlie, a ninth-grader at Evans High, and son Addison, who is currently attending high school in Colorado.
Mitchell has since returned to deployment, bidding farewell to his family for another eight months.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.