By Phyllis Coulter
November 9, 2008
NORMAL -- About 100 third-graders at Prairieland Elementary School
know how to properly fold a flag, what it's like in Iraq, and how
prepackaged Army meals taste.
"They are very engaged," said Bethany Gebur, a U.S. Army sergeant and
student teacher from Illinois State University who helped arrange a
visit from Army recruiters, and craft activities and lessons about
For Gebur, Veterans Day is something personal that should be shared.
Her husband, U.S. Army Spc. Ron Gebur, died when a bomb struck his
Humvee near Baghdad in 2006. Bethany Gebur served stateside and in Korea.
Gebur, who hopes to become a Unit 5 teacher, is raising the couple's
son Gage, 3, who eventually will attend Grove Elementary School.
"I lost my husband, but this is about all soldiers," she said of a
display that included his army helmets, an honor flag and his photo.
She helped plan a week of lessons with teacher Nancy Harp and fellow
student teacher Katy Reihsmann of Illinois Wesleyan University. On
Friday, students saw pictures of Iraqi schools built by American
soldiers and heard about Army life.
"We learned about Army values," said Kearsten Personette, 8, who sees
the military as a potential career choice. She easily recited Army
values, noting "respect" is among top values at her school.
Gebur sorted MREs (meals ready to eat) for a taste test. "They're not
going to like them anyway," Gebur said. "When I was starving, I
didn't like them, so when they're not hungry …"
To her surprise, most of the children liked most of the food.
In Iraq, Staff Sgt. Brian Rychetsky of Bloomington and Cpl. Jason
Rouch of Colfax, now recruiters, had very different experiences with
Rychetsky, a 17-year Army veteran who enlisted to save money for
college, ate in a cafeteria or at Burger King or Subway while he was
a helicopter mechanic posted in Iraq.
In contrast, Rouch was thankful for one bottle of water and a couple
of MREs a day eaten on the desert sand.
"I had a pretty nice life," Rychetsky said, other than being away
from his wife and daughters.
"I went 42 days without a shower," Rouch said, explaining he tried to
keep clean by using bottled water to wash up. He used a poncho and a
pole to make a temporary tent and sometimes woke in a sleeping bag
covered with several inches of sand after a night storm. The day he
left Iraq, the temperature was 148 degrees on the tarmac.
He started active duty Jan. 1, 2001, and served until 2004 before
returning as a recruiter.
The children learned Velcro on new uniforms is noisy, but helmets are
more comfortable, and that Rouch saw the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower
of Pisa and many European wonders.
Rychetsky's favorite soldiers are his two sisters, who joined the
Army long after he and his brother. They both served at least once in
Iraq. "They stopped their lives to go over there," he said.
Rychetsky's favorite job was building a school in Iraq. The admitted
"tough guy" said he cried when he saw the joy on the faces of
children who never had a school before.