Every day is Veteran’s Day at the Oneonta Job Corps Academy in Oneonta, New York; at least for anyone who pauses in the intersection of the main building known as the Hall of Heroes. Here, framed by a patriotic red, white, and blue paint scheme, and American and armed forces flags, are the names and photos of two dozen staff members, for whom the hall is dedicated. Veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and National Guard, each man and woman has served our country, and has his or her own story to tell.
Like Facilities Maintenance Instructor Mike Conners, who was Quartermaster for the U.S. Navy: “For me it was growing up quickly – seventeen years-old, stationed out of Brooklyn, NY, on the USS Compass Island. It was quite the experience traveling all around the world, landing in all kinds of ports, and stopping on every island in the Caribbean, including Cuba.”
Career Preparation Instructor Lori Rowe enlisted to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, father, and brother. And because her mother said she couldn’t. “Military was in my blood,” states Rowe matter-of-factly. She performed clerical and administrative work as a Yeoman, which she says is the oldest rating in the US Navy: “I worked in the Washington DC/Navy Annex, which is about a mile from the pentagon. My first job was manning the phones. I would answer calls from parents of soldiers wondering where their sons or daughters were and if they were okay.”
Counselor Andy Daley was part of the resupply of salvage operations in the USS Belknap/USS JFK in the Mediterranean Sea, which coincidentally occurred on the 12th anniversary of JFK’s assassination in Nov. 1975. The Belknap never sailed again and the Kennedy was out of commission for air operations for a while.
Security Officer Karl Heidenreich decided to join the NY National Guard after his experience as a first responder at the World Trade Center on September 11. He served as a foreman to construct a facility used to train troops for urban combat. “I have personally met soldiers who used this facility and reported to me that they refined their close-quarters combat skills and felt better prepared to be deployed to the Middle East.”
The mission of Job Corps—to prepare young adults for employment, which also includes service in the military—is not lost on our veterans. This is certainly the case for Heidenreich, who is known as Sergeant by the students in the center’s Military Cadet Program. Each Thursday and Saturday they don their fatigues, fill their water bottles, and engage in training exercises to foster teamwork and discipline. Food Service Manager Donald Tubbs, who served for 20 years aboard a submarine as a Chief Petty Officer, understands the draw: “I am always amazed at how well these young people get along with each other considering their diverse backgrounds. The common ground they all stand on is the desire to make a better life.”
Editor’s Note: The author, Christopher Kuhn is the Director of the Oneonta Job Corps Academy.