Local veterans talk war with students

Northeastern High School sophomore Bailey Scanlon had a fair enough question Thursday morning for the soldiers and veterans visiting his American history class.

If he joins the military after graduation, he asked, where might he be expected to go?

“Look at the map, and look for the worst possible place in the world,” answered an active-duty Army Ranger who’s seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan. “That’s where we’ll be.”

For Northeastern sophomores, it was their third and final day this week hearing about the wars they’ve studied straight from the guys who fought them.

They ranged from World War II and Korean veterans, who were petered out by lunchtime Monday, to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who, fueled by Red Bull and Mountain Dew Kickstart, clearly were prepared to address all six of history teacher Greg Mann’s classes Thursday.

Vietnam veterans visited Wednesday.

Despite the generational differences, they’ve all been in the worst possible places in the world.

Rick Lohnes, the Clark County commissioner who before entering politics flew F-16s, including combat missions in the 1990s over Iraq’s no-fly zones and during Operation Desert Strike, said Thursday he once had made fun of grunts.

“Until,” he said, “I set foot in Kuwait and it was 128 in the shade.”

“What you can’t see on TV is how daggone hot it is,” Lohnes added.

Army Capt. Glenn Dobney, a South Vienna resident and an active member of the Ohio National Guard, recalled the strange experience of seeing camel spiders fight scorpions in Iraq in 2005.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Fritts, a 1994 Graham High School graduate, grossed out everybody with his story about having to burn his own excrement in Iraq circa 2003.

The mood got more serious when the conversation Thursday morning turned to post-traumatic stress disorder caused by multiple deployments.

“It’s a problem, and it’s going to get worse as we get older,” said Joshua Skaggs, a 2001 graduate of Urbana High School who deployed twice to Iraq with the Army.

A 2010 graduate of Wright State University — completely paid for by the GI Bill, he noted to students — Skaggs now works as a registered nurse at the Dayton VA Medical Center.

“We haven’t seen a lot of our generation down there yet,” he said.

Fritts, who now serves with the Ohio Army National Guard’s 37th Special Troops Battalion by the Clark County Fairgrounds, had experience with lingering combat stress before he even went to Iraq.

He spoke of his father, a Vietnam veteran.

“For years,” Fritts explained, “I had to wake him up by his feet or else he’d punch me in the face.”

For Mann, the history teacher, the purpose of hosting veterans is simple. This is the second year he’s rounded up local veterans, who often bring pieces of gear, to visit his classes.

“It’s a great way to learn about history from the people who are living it,” Mann said.

Between classes, Skaggs described being in basic training when 9/11 happened, and how it reaffirmed his decision to join the Army.

“I was put here for this,” he remembers thinking. “This is my time.”

Skaggs recalled his grandfather’s service in World War II.

“I wanted to serve my country in a real way,” he said.

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