By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun
GORHAM — Air Force Capt. Nathan Demers of Randolph, who attended the Edward Fenn Elementary School and graduated from Gorham High School in 2006, was the principal speaker at Thursday afternoon’s annual Veterans Day Assembly.
Thanks to Skype technology, a lively presentation by the 29-year-old was live-streamed from the Hill Air Force Base in Utah to a laptop computer in the cafeteria and then projected onto an on-stage screen at the front of the high-ceilinged room filled with students, families, staff and veterans, some in uniform.
Demers explained to the kindergartners through fifth-graders that he had gone to their school, played basketball and dodgeball in that same gym, enjoyed recess there and then gone to Gorham Middle High School. At one time, he told the youngsters, he thought he would have to choose between going into the military — his first choice — or going to college ‚ his parents’ first choice.
“You can do whatever you want; remember that,” he said.
Like many other young Americans who were on the cusp of adolescence on Sept. 11, 2001, Demers said he’d developed the feeling that he wanted to protect the United States and make sure that something like that didn’t happen again.
Demers said he joined the Air Force in May 2010 as a Reserve Officer Training Corps graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor of science in civil engineering. He earned his basic explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) badge in June 2013 and was awarded his senior EOD badge in June. Demers has deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Freedom’s Sentinel and the NATO-led Operation Resolute Support, logging 12-plus months overseas, including six months in Afghanistan, six months in the United Arab Emirates, and two weeks in Kosovo.
He then walked down a corridor in the facility where his work is based and focused his video camera on some of the robots that the military bomb squad uses to render safe and dispose of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive hazards. “We’re always training,” Demers explained.
As range flight commander at Hill Air Force Base, he is responsible for the training, equipping, and employment of 54 enlisted and civilian personnel in 10 mission areas across a four-state area, including the Utah Test and Training Ranges.
Demers talked with the students about the history of Veterans Day, from the end of World War I at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918 to President Woodrow Wilson declaring it Armistice Day a year later on 1919. He said, “President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed it Veterans Day in 1954 to honor those who have protected the country all around the world.”
“Some (military service) is really difficult and sometimes it takes you to bad places, but we do our part — our duty — to keep our country safe,” he said proudly. “It’s a really great place to defend.”
He explained to the students that everyone — “guys and girls” — who has served in the military is a veteran. “Both my grandfathers served: one in the Army, and the one who is here today — Norman Demers of Gorham — in the Navy on the U.S.S. Coral Sea (in Europe during the Korean War),” said Demers, who was born in Berlin in 1988. He also good-naturedly answered students’ questions.
First-year principal Tina Binette served as the master of ceremonies. She thanked the three officers from the Berlin Police Department for posting the colors: Officer Phil Pelletier, Officer Adam Marsh, and Corporal Joe Priest. Demers noted that he was glad to see such increased cooperation in the Androscoggin Valley.
Students Chloe Gagnon and Sotirious Thagorus led everyone in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Six girls sang the national anthem: Rias Gallant, Chise Wade, Tori Demers, Lily Gorban, Addison Eastman and Allie Pelletier.
The combined kindergarten/first grade class sang the “Grand Old Flag.” Addison played “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” on the violin. Five students read their Veterans Day essays, explaining its significance: Logan Herriott, Hallee Albert, Jack Saladino, Addison and Ayden Corrigan.
Binette encouraged visitors to read the biographies of veterans and other essays that were posted on the corridor wall outside the cafeteria and for students to thank the veterans on hand and with whom they interact for their military service that protected our freedoms.