By TIM FENSTER MASSENA - While on leave from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph A. Hazelton took the time this week to speak with several first grade classes at Jefferson Elementary School.
Mr. Hazelton, a 15-year soldier from Louisville, hopes his visit taught the children about military life, veterans issues and the privledge of being born American.
I just love being around kids and hearing them ask cool questions, (such as questions) about liberties, Mr. Hazelton, 32, said. (I spoke so) hopefully Ms. (Kristen M.) Laramay could show her students how to honor veterans.
Mr. Hazelton spoke at length with the children about a variety of issues in military life, including the various patches and symbols on his uniform, eating and maintaining hygiene on a military base in Afghanistan and aspects of military code, such as the requirement to keep his hair short and face clean-shaven.
He explained how the flag-patch on his uniform reflects when seen through night-vision goggles, in order to identify American soldiers to other friendlies, while not giving them away to enemy combatants, who rarely carry high-tech night-vision equipment.
The more brutal aspects of military life were explained in a way six- and seven-year-old children could understand.
One student asked, Who is in the war?
Its strange because the bad guys dont wear uniforms, Mr. Hazelton answered. Theyre just really bad guys who want to do real bad things to other people.
Mr. Hazelton went on to explain the use of zip-ties to arrest enemy combatants.
As an officer of the 444th engineering company, Mr. Hazelton leads a squad of 13 soldiers who are tasked with clearing roads for safe travel. This includes identifying hidden bombs and other threats, which are then disarmed by Explosive Ordinance Disposal units.
Mr. Hazelton joined the military at the earliest possible age, 17. I always wanted to join the military, but I wasnt sure I wanted to do active duty so I joined the reserves, he said.
However, Mr. Hazelton did end up in active duty. He served nine months in Iraq, from late 2007 to mid 2008, and next week he will leave town to continue his current tour in Afghanistan, which will last until January.
Ms. Laramay, whose class hosted Mr. Hazelton, said this was a timely educational experience for her students.
I hope they learned about Veterans Day - why we celebrate Veterans Day and that veterans are people too, she said.