As part of the commemoration of Veterans Day, Knollwood School fourth through eighth graders attended assemblies on November 7 presented by “Lead U,” which was created in 2016 by JD Wilson, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former classroom teacher, to empower students to embrace their leadership potential. Wilson, along with fellow Air Force veteran Bill Gaskins and Lead U co-founder Dan Effenberger, conducted the Knollwood assemblies, which focused on leadership, respect for veterans, and the many sacrifices associated with deployment.
Wilson served with U.S. security forces in Iraq from 2006 to 2010. Gaskins served with U.S. security forces from 1992 through 2013, and was deployed three times to five bases, including one in Iraq. A dog training/handling specialist, he trained 624 dog teams during his career. “Life in the military entails so much more than what is shown in games and in popular culture,” said Gaskins. “My reality was that I left behind my two-year-old daughter and my wife, who is a kindergarten teacher, to serve. I missed out on doing a lot of things that dads are supposed to do.”
Yet Gaskins does not consider himself a hero. “I truly wanted to do what I felt I had to do. I wanted to keep all of you safe and make sure you would continue to have a good life.”
In a highly effective demonstration, two students at each assembly “geared up” in the heavy protective items currently worn by U.S. soldiers. Those items, which can weigh up to 63 pounds, are worn in Iraq, where the temperatures are often higher than 130 degrees Fahrenheit. “Think about the soldiers who are out there right now, who are our friends. They are putting on this gear, and remember they are doing it for you,” Wilson said.
Then the students “built” a successful leader by naming qualities they considered essential. They felt leaders should be hardworking, confident, determined, independent, loyal, helpful, kind, and mature. Wilson told the students, “Every single one of you has the qualities and characteristics of a leader inside of you. Think about one leadership quality you possess and embrace it. For example, you may think you of yourself as hardworking, but how do you show it?”
The students were finally presented with the follow-up challenge of writing letters to currently deployed U.S. troops using patriotic stationery and addresses. Wilson said, “Whatever you can write and share will be very much appreciated, I can guarantee it.”
Lead U offers leadership camps for high school students, one-day workshops for middle and high school students, and assemblies for middle school students. For more information, visit www.leaduthere.com or Lead_U_ on Instagram.