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Giving Gratitude to Those Who Serve

Chantilly High honors America’s veterans.

Each year, Chantilly High honors America’s armed-services personnel with a dinner and an evening of entertainment. The event is always special, and this year’s Veteran’s Day Dinner was no exception.

“This night makes me very proud — both to honor you and to show off our kids from the National Honor Society [NHS], culinary arts, Performing Arts Department, band and choral program,” Principal Teresa Johnson told the crowd. “Thank you for serving our country.”

“The students and faculty have put this together for you because you’re worth it,” added NHS advisor Charles Demek. “You’re important in the life of your country, so thank you.”

Some 210 people attended the Nov. 28 event in the school cafeteria, and Johnson even invited her brother, retired Army Lt. Col. David Davis, who sat at her table.

The Chamber Orchestra String Quartet performed as the guests entered the room, and NHS President Sandeep Malladi welcomed everyone and introduced the evening’s theme, Liberty and Freedom. Chantilly’s Air Force JROTC presented the colors and the Chamber Chorale sang the national anthem.

The school’s culinary arts students prepared the meal and about 100 NHS students served it. Giving the invocation, Vietnam veteran John Sullivan said, “We should remember the 516,000-plus veterans who died and were never able to have this moment of joy.”

Senior Rachel Dunning, NHS historian, helped serve dinner and played clarinet with the Symphonic Band. She also spoke with some of the veterans.

“They’re sweet and polite, and I like hearing their stories from the wars they’ve been in,” she said. “It’s important to give back to the veterans. We can never fully repay them, but this [event] is a token to say, ‘Thank you and we honor your service.’”

Senior Heather Maher also enjoyed interacting with the veterans while serving their food. “My dad was a colonel in the Army, and it’s important to recognize that these people fight for us,” she said. “They deserve more recognition for what they do.”

Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall, who led the Air National Guard in Hawaii, was the guest speaker. “What a phenomenal evening; it’s my honor to be here with you tonight,” she said. “America will only stay the land of the free as long as we celebrate the brave. We must not only remember their gallantry on the field, but their legacy of service to their country.”

Hall said military personnel are service members for life and veterans are “united by a common bond — their determination to serve this nation. Our veterans and their families have given so much, and we must remind them that they will always remain the strength of this nation.”

However, she said, thousands of veterans of all ages are now unemployed and supporting them requires a team effort by the Department of Defense, other government agencies and the community.

“We should rally for these heroes in peacetime, as well,” said Jelinski-Hall. “We can volunteer in the community and encourage businesses to hire veterans. The leadership, technical and decision-making skills they learn in the military make them valuable assets in the workplace.”

She said veterans are also team players with “an unwavering commitment to excellence. So let’s make sure our young veterans have the opportunity to reach their highest potential [because] those are our American heroes. May God bless you and may He continue to bless the United States of America.”

Chantilly junior Kate Scott attended the dinner with her mother, Kimberly. “We’re here representing my dad, Mark, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force for 25 years,” said Kate. “At age 42, he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and is now in an assisted-living facility for veterans and their dependents in Richmond.”

“He would have loved this event,” she continued. “He was passionate about military history. His history teacher in high school inspired him to join the military. When he was 18, he won a scholarship to the Air Force Academy. But his family’s farm in Missouri was failing and, as the oldest son, he had to stay home and save it.”

Eventually, however, Scott enlisted, worked his way up the ranks and later became a history teacher at the Air Force Academy. “I’m still so proud of my daddy,” said Kate. “He’ll always be my hero. So we’re here tonight in honor of him.”

Junior Michael Reingold enjoyed waiting on the veterans. “It’s a good cause, and the food’s great here, so they get to enjoy a really nice meal,” he said. “NHS is all about service and giving back to the community, and one of the greatest aspects of our society is our veterans. So this is a great way to show appreciation toward them for all the hard work and fighting they did to keep us safe.”

Classmate Arvin Daneshmand said the NHS members arrived for the 6:30 p.m. event at 3:30 p.m. to prepare the room by setting up the chairs, tables, silverware, napkins, flowers, salt, pepper and candles and wouldn’t leave until 10:30 p.m. — an hour after it ended.

But he was happy to do it. “It’s a service to the people who served us,” he said. “It shows that we’re helping our community and we care about our country and the people who put their lives at risk for us.”

The patriotic program included the Symphonic Band performing “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the Chamber Chorale singing “Shenandoah,” the Brass Ensemble playing “America the Beautiful” and student Amanda Mason singing “I’ll be Seeing You.”

There was also a tribute to the fallen, with the Chamber Chorale singing “Blades of Grass & Pure White Stone.” Chantilly Band Director Drew Ross performed “Taps” and the Symphonic Band gave rousing renditions of the songs representing each branch of the service.

Afterward, Coast Guard Capt. Bob Bevins, on active duty at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said he was impressed with the program. An Oak Hill resident, his son David is a Chantilly senior.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Bevins. “And you see this same type of dedication and effort in so many other activities here, too. Chantilly’s staff brings out the best in the students, and I’m glad I’ve been stationed here long enough for my son to attend this school.”

David’s in the NHS and, said Bevins, “It’s nice that the students learn to focus on serving someone else. It gives them a great life lesson that they can carry on.”

Agreeing, Chantilly PTSA President Tina Wallace said she was “honored to be invited. I think we can’t do enough to thank those who served. I’m grateful to see this here at Chantilly, and I appreciate Mr. Demek for producing such a wonderful event.”