SOUTHINGTON - Town leaders recognized high school seniors who have committed to enter the military upon their graduation Tuesday at the municipal center.
The Enlistee Military Recognition Ceremony was attended by local veterans, Town Manager Mark Sciota, members of the Town Council, School Superintendent Tim Connellan, teachers and members of the Board of Education.
All praised the enlistees for their bravery and their determination to protect the freedom of others.
Enlistees were presented with a blue star banner for their families to display, a military cord to wear at graduation, a Certificate of Commendation from the local American Legion post, a military challenge coin, a pocket flag and parachute cord bracelets made by local middle school students.
The American Legion will also be presenting enlistees with laptops with webcams after their basic training.
“We’re so proud of you following our tradition and entering the military,” said Steve Pintarich, past commander of the post. “I say it every year; this is the best event that we do.”
Connellan began by welcoming the guests and holding a moment of silence for recently deceased members of the veterans committee Richard Fortunato and Leonard Marcheselle as well as in acknowledgement of the victims of the recent Santa Fe high school shooting. He then thanked the enlistees.
“This is a day to celebrate the choice you have made and which we are all appreciate of and in support of,” he said.
Student Tanner Sperry then sang the national anthem and World War II veteran Walter Hushak led the gathering in the pledge of allegiance.
After the luncheon, Robert Lalla, a fourth-grade teacher at Plantsville Elementary School and a veteran who served during Operation Enduring Freedom, spoke to the enlistees. He served in the Army with the 173rd Airborne Brigade from June 2003 to July 2006 and participated in 20 combat missions in Afghanistan.
Thank you for choosing to serve,” said Lalla. “You answered the call to serve and your town has 100 percent support for you.”
Lalla said that the moment he knew that he wanted to serve was in the spring of 1998. He was a lifeguard and had to save the life of a 22-year-old who was drowning.
“I knew then, when you have someone’s life in your hand, that if you weren’t there at that moment, they might not be here,” he said.
Lalla encouraged the enlistees to come back to town and become community leaders as well as to take advantage of their veterans’ benefits upon their return.
Town Clerk Kathy Larkin encouraged the enlistees to contact her so that their pictures can be displayed on the Wall of Honor at the Municipal Center, which was set up in 2009.
Brian Goralski, chairman of the Board of Education, also praised the enlistees.
“You are role models to us and to the world,” he said. “Your parents and the Board of Education could not be prouder of you. The military is not just about might, it’s about leadership, guidance and role models. We wish for your safety and well-being.”
Councilor Victoria Triano, who also is a Christian pastor, then closed the event with a benediction, in which she compared the enlistees to a 15- or 16-year-old David running out to challenge Goliath with the faith that God was with him.
She encouraged the enlistees to have a relationship with God and to remember that they were not alone. God would be with them, she said, and their parents and people from their hometown would be encouraging them.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.