According to Lt. Col. Melisa A. Ringhisen, being in high school can be as difficult as being in a war zone.
“It is just as much an act of bravery to stand up to your peers and sometimes even harder than it is to shoot people that are shooting at you,” said Ringhisen during the Veterans Day Assembly sponsored by the Elkin High School JROTC on Wednesday.
“I can tell you that when the Taliban shoots at me, it’s very easy to return fire. It’s not hard,” said Ringhisen. “It’s far harder to challenge my friends to do the right thing. It’s so much easier to step away [and ignore it]. I don’t have to be friends with the Taliban tomorrow, but I have to continue that relationship with my friends tomorrow.”
Ringhisen is proud of her 18 years of military intelligence service, which included supporting more than 500 missions in Baghdad and Afghanistan and teaching international relations and negotiations and conflict resolution at West Point for two years.
Now the first female chair of the Department of Military Science at Wake Forest University, Ringhisen is also proud of fellow veterans, but wanted to make it clear to the listening students that they have the same potential as the heroes serving the military.
“We draw our Army from society,” said Ringhisen, stating she and other attending veterans, “came from a lot of the same places that you come from. Nowadays when we talk about veterans we start using words like ‘brave’ and ‘hero,’ but I’m here to tell you a secret,” confided Ringhisen, “none of us are any braver than any of you.
“Our bravery isn’t special. You have the capacity for that bravery in you right now,” said Ringhisen, “and hopefully you won’t have to find it on the battlefield in places like Vietnam or Korea and Afghanistan and Iraq. You have the means to be just as brave and just as much of a hero as any of us.”
Being a hero doesn’t always mean putting one’s own life in danger, but it can mean saving someone else’s by the smallest gesture.
“Sometimes it’s just as simple as letting someone know you care for them and that you were there for them when they’re hurting or need help. Sometimes it’s just seeing somebody struggling in class or in life and going out of your way to stop and talk to them. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture,” said Ringhisen.
“When you see somebody who’s doing something wrong, say something to them. Remind them that they should be doing better and if that doesn’t work then talk to a teacher. When you see somebody bullying someone say something,” said Ringhisen. “Don’t allow bad things to happen in this world.
“The power of the United States military is that we are a force for global good as the Navy says,” said Ringhisen. “We are a force for global good and you guys can be part of that for us whether you join or you choose to be a force for good in your own community and so I challenge you to continue to do that as an honor to veterans everywhere.
“Choose the harder right over the easier wrong is the way the Army phrases it,” said Rinfhisen, “and those are sometimes the hardest decisions to make especially at the high school level when you’re talking about your friends and peers. Show that simple sign of bravery because quite honestly that is the toughest demonstration of bravery that you will ever see.
“That is what basically will put you in the same level as those of us who served,” she said.
“We aren’t special we’ve just shown our bravery in a different way and in a place where the consequences are very different,” said Ringhisen, “but you have that capacity because that is where we draw our service members from. I know all of you have that capability and that capacity in you. You don’t need to climb over a trench wall and assault German lines to prove you’re brave, and you don’t need to or not earn a Medal of Honor in Afghanistan prove you’re a hero.
“The greatest heroes of our Army are still human beings and they still make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean it stops them from being heroes to those whom they lead,” said Ringhisen. “I can guarantee you they felt the same fears that all of us have felt. The same fears that I felt before I deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.”
It is doing the right thing in spite of the fear that makes a hero.
“Bravery isn’t something that suddenly comes upon you or that you’re born with. It’s really feeling that fear and pushing past it and doing what you know to be right and you guys have that opportunity to do that every single day here. You have the capacity to be a hero to those around you. To be brave,” said Ringhisen, “and you don’t half to be deployed to do that.
“I challenge you to go forward and to continue to serve your country and your local area and everything that you do.
“You are part of a proud tradition of service in this country. Americans have always been a force for good and have always served their country and served the world. Continue to be that force for good and I challenge you by starting here now and being that force within your own community.
“You are the generation that follows behind us and has to take up that torch for us and continue the service,” said Ringhisen, “and not so much worry about buying me a cup of coffee or saying, ‘thank you for your service.’
“Those are all great things, but you honor us more by bringing your generation forward to take up that torch from us and continue to make America a force for good across the world and to continue to make the world a better place and to make your local area a better place and all that you do. I challenge you all this weekend and from now on to do the small things.”
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.