Fifteen high school seniors from West Hartford were honored Tuesday, May 24, 2016, by American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96.
By Ronni Newton
American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 held its first ever recognition ceremony on Tuesday night for the 15 West Hartford high school seniors who will enter a military program after graduation this spring.
Post 96 Commander Moe Fradette said he wanted to recognize the important decision these students made to elect a military program. “This was the first time and we definitely will do it again,” he said.
According to Fradette, the national average for high school students entering the military in some capacity is less than 1 percent. In West Hartford this year, the 15 students represent an impressive number closer to 2 percent, he said.
The 15 students honored include several who will directly enter a branch of the military after graduation, as well as those who will participate in ROTC programs. Hall senior Claudia Hess is the first West Hartford female to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Conard senior Joe Duva will attend the United States Air Force Academy. Hall senior Carli Carnes, who will enter the United States Coast Guard Academy after graduation, led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The ceremony was attended friends and family of the honorees as well as by administration from West Hartford Public Schools, all members of the West Hartford Board of Education, Mayor Shari Cantor, Deputy Mayor Leon Davidoff, and other town leaders and officials. Kingswood Oxford Head of School Dennis Bisgaard was also among the more than 50 people in attendance.
Each honoree was presented with a Military Military Commitment Certificate of Commendation and medallion from the American Legion. Each was also given a special red, white, and blue cord which will be worn over their gown at graduation and will signify their military commitment.
Mayor Cantor spoke on behalf of the Town of West Hartford, and expressed pride in the students who were being honored.
Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore told the audience that he is thankful to those students who have made the decision to answer the call to military service, and personally thanks each one.
According to a news release issued by Post 96, keynote speaker Colonel Rolf Knoll, US Army (Ret) spoke to the audience about how his decision to join the Army after high school “gave him the opportunity for advancement, higher education, and command responsibility over his 25 year military career.” After joining the Army, Knoll was given the opportunity to attend West Point Prep School and then continued on the the USMA at West Point where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in engineering. Col. Knoll went on to serve as commander of the 405th Combat Support Hospital based in West Hartford and was senior medical officer for U.S. Forces in the Balkan Theater.
West Hartford Board of Education member Mark Zydanowicz, a recently-retired major in the Connecticut Army National Guard, closed out the ceremony by speaking about his 25 years of military experience. He encouraged the honorees to “take every opportunity to advance their education while serving in the military.”
The following seniors were honored:
- Noah Adler, Hall High School, Army ROTC
- Constantine Bouzakis, Northwest Catholic, Army National Guard
- Kaniya Burney, Hall High School, Army Reserve
- Carli Carnes, Hall High School, US Coast Guard Academy
- Jack Davis, Conard High School, Army ROTC
- Joe Duva, Conard High School, US Air Force Academy
- Claudia Hess, Hall High School, USMA West Point
- Jonathan Lee, Conard High School, Army ROTC
- Sierra Moore, Hall High School, Army ROTC
- Christel Pucutay, Hall High School, Army National Guard
- Michael Sisti, Conard High School, Air Force ROTC
- Miguel Vicente, Conard High School, US Navy
- Brandon Viera, Northwest Catholic, US Marine Corps
- Richard Woods, Kingswood Oxford, Navy ROTC – The Citadel
- Jeny Yonjan, Conard High School, Army National Guard
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