Each year, Soddy-Daisy High's JROTC program puts on a Veterans Day parade and invites hundreds of area veterans to participate and be honored.
This year's parade was the fourth for SDHS senior Skylar Hawkins, who has been given more responsibility with each year. Hawkins said she and the rest of the cadets are simply trying to demonstrate the importance of showing appreciation to the region's veterans through their dedication to the event.
"I come from a military family," said Hawkins, a native of Soddy-Daisy. "These people go into the military and sacrifice so much to serve our country and give us the freedom we have. I'm just glad we have a program where they can come and we can show our love for them."
Hawkins served as a battalion commander at this year's parade, meaning she got to present the battalions of cadets to the reviewing officer, as well as meet all the program's guests. In previous years, she served in the honor unit, which marches with the veterans and guests of honor.
One of this year's guests was Len Gray, a commander of the local American Legion Post 107. A Vietnam War veteran who served from 1966 to 1970, Gray is familiar with Hawkins. His post helped send her to Girls State, an elite leadership program for chosen cadets, and has also presented Hawkins with medals for her participation in various JROTC and American Legion events.
"She's a model of what a JROTC cadet should be like," Gray said.
Gray served in a similar organization when he was Hawkins' age, and it was this experience that made him want to join Air Force. Seeing all of the JROTC cadets honor his service and the service of the hundreds of other veterans was humbling, he said.
"In the Vietnam era, a veteran wasn't really looked on with pride," said Gray. "While I was accepted by my community in Brooklyn when I returned, we weren't very popular back then, let's put it that way."
Gray said he's proud to see the discipline and respect that the school's JROTC 1st Sgt. Tim Hodges, Maj. Eric Redlin and CW3 Jim Holovacko have drilled into their cadets.
"It's a fantastic program," said Gray. "When we're at the parade, several cadets are there to help us, and they always ask some questions, like a little interview. It's obvious they appreciate us for the service we provided."