Leila Dalton has been involved with Patriotic Day at Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School every year since it started 19 years ago. The annual event saw dozens of military personnel, veterans and active duty, descend upon the Akimel campus Friday morning for what has been going on longer than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The first few years we were a country at peace,” said Dalton, an administrative assistant at Akimel. “That changed, obviously. And now you have parents deployed overseas and coming back. It hits closer to home.”

The 75-minute presentation had musical performances by students, speeches by principal Mike Deignan, former principal Patricia Weegar, and special guest Tyler Willbanks, an Army veteran who returned home from Afghanistan in February. His son Justin attends Akimel.

“He was absolutely inspiring,” Deignan said of Willbanks. “This event is a reminder. We hope the students realize that we get to enjoy the things we enjoy because of all the people (veterans) sitting in front of us.”

That message was not lost on the veterans or the students.

“I wish that schools across the country did something like this,” said Anthony Camacho, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident who was in the first Gulf War as a member of the Marine Corps. “The more the idea of being a good citizen can be instilled now, the better off our kids will be as they grow up. And seeing and talking to these World War II guys, they are getting first-hand experience of what that is like.”

Winners of three essay contests were also announced. The American Legion Auxiliary, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Daughters of the America Revolution each presented a winner in their individual essay contests.

“We always try to look for things to connect the students with the veterans,” Dalton said. “It’s a learning experience first and foremost.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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