Veterans Service Commission honors HS seniors entering the military

Area high school students who have committed to join the U.S. military were honored on Wednesday night at the county's first Rite of Passage Ceremony, presented by the Ashtabula County Veterans Service Commission.

CONNEAUT — Ten students from Ashtabula County high schools planning to join the U.S. were honored on Wednesday night, as part of the first county Rite of Passage Ceremony.

The event was put on by the Ashtabula County Veterans Service Commission.

Commission Director Benjamin Schwartfigure said he had the idea for the event about 18 months ago, but it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This isn’t my event, this is a team event,” Schwartfigure said.

He said Veterans Service Commission board members, staff, and community members all had input into the event.

Schwartfigure said when he joined the service, he didn’t know who else in his school and the county joined with him.

“Even today as I stand here, I find out new people that joined when I went,” he said. “So this is an opportunity to one, acknowledge these kids for what they’re about to embark on being such an amazing, adventurous future for them.

“It’s to let them know that they have a community of support so that when they get to those real tough spots in their initial entry training, they remember this group today, they remember everybody in here, and they push past that adversity.”

Luis Albino, from Geneva High School, will be joining the Army, and plans to work with artillery.

“Somebody kept talking about it, that I used to work with, that was real nice to me,” Albino said.

Abby Bartel, from Geneva High School, will also be joining the Army, and plans to work in explosive ordnance disposal.

“I want that adrenaline rush,” she said.

Cooper Goodge, from Jefferson Area High School, will be joining the Army and hopes to become a Blackhawk mechanic.

“I have three family members that actually were Blackhawk mechanics,” he said.

Zachery Mayle, of Geneva High School, will be joining the Army, with the intention of becoming a member of the infantry.

“My dad was infantry,” he said.

Jason Herd, from Conneaut High School, will be joining the Marine Corps, with the intention of joining the infantry.

“I want to be the best of the best, and I want to serve my country first hand,” Herd said.

Samantha Schlaich, from Lakeside High School, will be joining the Marine Corps, and plans to work in supply, administration and operations.

Logan Vosburg, from Conneaut High School, will be joining the Marine Corps, and hopes to be an embassy guard.

“I wanted to explore the country, and that’s the best way to do it,” he said.

Thomas Allen, from Lakeside, will be joining the Air Force and hopes to work in drone maintenance.

“I really want to travel around, see the world,” he said.

Brooke Caruso, from Edgewood High School, will be joining the Air Force.

Chris Chamberlain, from Lakeside, is joining the Air Force, where he plans to work in cybersecurity.

“I’m really into technology, computers, and I want to continue that,” he said.

Retired Col. Bill Kennedy spoke to the students.

“[Your military instructors] want you to succeed, and you can do it, all of you,” he said.

Students took off hats bearing their high school logo, and put on hats from the service branch they plan to join. They received gifts from the Blue Star Mothers, including cords to be worn at their high school graduation ceremonies.

The event also served as an opportunity for the Veterans service Commission to reach out to veterans and let them know about services the commission provides, Schwartfigure said.

The plan is to rotate the event from school to school every year, he said.

Schwartfigure said he graduated from Conneaut in 1997, which was why the first event took place there.

“[Superintendent] Lori Riley was amazing, she jumped right on it, never even questioned it,” he said. “She’s been a great resource. We’ve done a lot of communicating.”

Charlie’s Deli catered the event, and students from Conneaut sang the national anthem, and the Young Marines provided the color guard, he said.

Riley said it is a great honor to be able to host the event.

“So often, when we hear of senior signings, we hear of kids going off to college, so it’s nice that we are able to honor the kids who have committed their lives to the military,” Riley said.

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