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At Primavera, we are proud to say that there are quite a few instructors who have not only served students, but their country as well. This Veterans Day, we decided to speak with a few of Primavera’s veterans and learn their stories.

Check them out below!

Mr. Jamal Arberry, English instructor

Mr. Jamal Arberry is an English instructor here at Primavera who enjoys reading, cooking and volunteering at the Phoenix Zoo in his spare time.

Before helping students, Mr. Arberry was an active military member who served overseas.

Right after high school, Mr. Arberry went to North Carolina to join the Marine Corps. Although at first he joined so he could escape his small hometown, Mr. Arberry said that being a part of the military became something he was proud to have accomplished.

“The Marine Corps gave me the opportunity to acquire skills that benefitted me beyond what I did while I served,” said Mr. Arberry.

Mr. Arberry told us about a time when he was stationed in Zimboanga City, Japan in 2005. There, he made lasting friendships with the residents.

“I was attached with a Marine Security Element in which the mission was part of Operation Enduring Freedom- Philippines. Many people might not know that there are jihadist terrorist down in those parts.”

 In the picture, we were invited to an event in which the people of Zamboanga City wanted to show their appreciation for us, the U.S. military. We had the opportunity to mingle with the locals and we got to watch some native dances. A lot of the kids became particularly fascinated with me when they found out I was Filipino, so they wanted to take pictures with me.”

“It was a really good time, especially for me,” Mr. Arberry said. “Because I was able to enjoy tons of food I was familiar with, like Filipino rice cakes and roasted pig on the spit.”

There is one important thing Mr. Arberry wants you students to remember: Don’t be afraid to fail.

“There are those who hold back on doing things because they are afraid of what the result may be. There are those who are afraid because if they fail, they are worried of what others will say to them. Don’t let that bother you. It is okay to be selfish sometimes through life’s journey because as you start reflecting back on your life as you get older you want to be able to say, “Yeah, I did that,” and not “Gosh, I wish I would’ve done that.” As you continue through your life’s journey go and do good, make mistakes, make a fool of yourself every now and then, go and own opportunity and take all these experiences and become the great person you know you can be.”

Ms. Diane L. Thomas, English instructor, MAEd

Ms. Thomas is a new English instructor at Primavera who has been teaching for 16 years. She also served our country in the United States Air Force for four years.

“I joined the Air Force under the DEP (Delayed Entry Program) in 1976. This was the year of which women were accepted into the USAF on an equal basis with men. I was in one of the first flights of women to go through basic training at Lackland AFB in Texas.

My job was Air Traffic Controller. As a very young female Airman, the environment was not always tailored to meet our circumstances. We were not treated differently and accommodations based on gender were excluded.

My advice to students who wish to join is to be able to step aside, behind or in front of those who you serve and protect. You must learn to focus on the task at hand, do not ask questions, follow orders, and be available to adjust to new leadership at all times.”

Mr. Jeff Connell, social studies instructor

Mr. Connell is a social studies instructor with a deep love for U.S. history, his country and has a talent for making history fun for students.

He comes from a long line of family dedicated to serving their country and was the U.S. Army Reservee stationed in Iraq.

“I was in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1999-2007. I served in Iraq from 2003-2004 when Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) first began. I joined before the events of 9/11/2001 so it was not a wartime decision for me. I joined because I wanted to serve something greater than myself and to be a part of a brotherhood for life.

Primavera students: Never be afraid to try something you think might be hard. If you want it, go for it. I learned a long time ago from my grandfather that losing is a lesson. When we lose, we never want that feeling again, so we work harder and harder to never lose again. Don’t be afraid to fail because it will teach you to never fail again. Know that there are people who care about you and want you to succeed, but in order to be truly successful, you must want it for yourself.”

Mr. Bryan Van Gelder, math department chair, math instructor

Mr. Van Gelder is an Army National Guard veteran, who served in Iowa in a specialized TOW Missile System unit, or “Tank Killers,” as he called it.

“I was a senior in high school when I enlisted in the Iowa Army National Guard, that would’ve been fall of 1993. We were allowed in the National Guard to enlist before going to basic training and I was able to attend the training with my unit and that following summer is when I did my basic training and advanced training,” said Mr. Van Gelder.

My job when I first started was being attached to an infantry unit, I was part of a platoon that used something called the TOW missile system. Basically, we were there in support of the infantry unit, we provided overwatch. With our system, we could see a lot of stuff and then we were there to support if we needed to. Basically, the TOW missile system was a tank killer, it was for eliminating tanks or tracked vehicles if necessary.”

Mr. Van Gelder joined the army initially to find a way to fund his college tuition. He knew he wanted to teach, and knew he needed a way to pay for it. But joining became a life transforming experience for him.

“I will say, however, after becoming involved and a part of The National Guard, it became a bigger part of my life and the experience of serving and going through those things with a group of individuals really does form a unique bond with those people and it was just a great experience that prepared me for a lot of things in my life, even just the simple example of resilience,” said Mr. Van Gelder.

For students wondering if serving if worth it, Mr. Van Gelder says, “Go for it.”

“For me, it was absolutely worth it. It changes your attitude, it changes your approach to your work, it changes how you interact with others and I really think it was a great way for me to grow as a human. It really did make me a more efficient person and and a better worker, so I would recommend it for anyone. Yes, you do have to do it for so long, but you still get to do those other things when you’re in the National Guard. Since you’re part-time, it allows you to do the ‘rest of your life,'” said Mr. Van Gelder.

“It’s just something that I wish everyone could experience because it really does change who you are.”

Mr. Steven Forrett, English instructor

Mr. Forrett is an English instructor who has been teaching for more than 17 years. He served in the United States Coast Guard from 1971–1975.

“Our country was in a very unpopular war and I knew that the draft was imminent. Due to the fact that I lived in the San Francisco Bay area, I knew about the work of the U.S. Coast Guard and wanted to be involved with search and rescue operations and experience the challenge and adrenaline of that kind of service.

I did not get an opportunity to serve in that capacity until close to the end of my time with the Coast Guard. Eventually, I would be transferred to Yerba Buena Island and spend about six months as part of a small boat crew until I was discharged honorably in 1975.

Prior to that time, I served aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Rush (WHEC 723).  At that time, ‘High Endurance Cutters’ served in various capacities in the Pacific including Ocean Station November to give guidance to planes and jets flying overhead in the days before satellite navigation. In addition, we aided enforcement of fishing in U.S. waters near Alaska. We monitored the Russians and the Japanese who would cast their nets in those waters surrounding Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

As a specialized vessel, high endurance cutters were equipped with some of the most sophisticated underwater sonar detection devices of that era. Due to that ability, we encountered a rather amazing discovery in the San Diego Harbor area in late 1973.  As it happens, we were there at that time for some ASWAX (Anti-submarine Warfare) training.

Since the U.S. at that time was in a state of ‘cold war’ with the Soviet Union (today called Russia), there was reason for concern. Apparently, the USSR had a nuclear vessel snooping around near San Diego, the home of the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy.

Why that nuke was there, we never found out, but it was interesting to have had the honor of being the quartermaster on duty to announce to the crew of the Rush over the ship’s announcement system, the 1MC – ‘This is not a drill . . . this is not a drill. All hands man general quarters.  All hand man general quarters.’

We chased her around for several days and eventually lost contact with her. Captain Horace Holmgren, USCG, our skipper, felt that she had gone to deeper waters to avoid our detection.

I ended my time with the coasties serving small boat duty in San Francisco Bay.   Nothing would top that incident with the Russians on that day in 1973.”

Semper Paratus.   “Always Ready.”

Mr. Forrett BM3, United States Coast Guard Veteran.

  • Do you have a teacher here at Primavera you appreciate? Share with us in the comments below!

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