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Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr., American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2013 Students from Naval Air Station Sigonella traveled from Sicily, Italy, to enjoy the sights of the nation’s capital culminating with the 57th presidential inauguration.
Twenty 8th grade students from the Defense Department’s Sigonella Middle High School, their U.S. history teacher and five parent-chaperones made the trip from Europe to the United States.
Jennifer Simpson, a Frederick, Md., native and chaperone, talked about the opportunity to bring the students to Washington, D.C., following a tour of the Pentagon yesterday.
“It’s like a trip of a lifetime for many of the kids,” she said. “It’s very strange to have the kids living in Italy and never [having] visited the United States. They’re U.S. citizens though.”
Simpson said the visiting students “will remember this [trip] their whole lives. Especially this tour because they’re military kids so this is a very special place for them.”
Simpson said the inauguration will be the highlight of the 8th graders’ trip to the U.S.
“I think that’s the climax to our trip here -- seeing the inauguration,” she said. “I mean that’s the purpose of us staying here to see history in the making.”
The rest of the week, Simpson said, will be exciting as the group visits the Supreme Court, and ultimately, every branch of government.
Mason Youberg, a 13-year old from the state of Washington, said his interests motivated him to join his class.
“I’ve never been to Washington D.C., and they were going to do some fun things,” he said. “[It’s been] good. We’ve seen the Capitol building which was very interesting and now the Pentagon.”
Youberg, whose mother is in the Navy, said he most looks forward to visiting the Smithsonian “because [it] has a lot of interesting things.”
Michaela Bowling, a 14 year old from Virginia Beach, Va., wanted to re-visit the nation’s capital to appreciate it now that she is older. “I really wanted to come on this trip because when I was little I used to come here with my parents,” she said. “But I never really understood some of the stuff we used to see. Now that I’m a little bit older, I feel like I’m going to understand it a lot more.”
After two stops on the trip, Bowling said the trip has already been “memorable.”
“I really liked all of it,” she said. “I really liked coming to the Pentagon and going to the Capitol.”
Bowling, whose father was in the Navy and now serves as a civilian firefighter, noted she really looks forward to seeing the inauguration.
“I think that it’s amazing that we get to see it,” she said. “It’s like we’re a part of history. Not everybody gets to tell somebody that they’ve been to the inauguration and at this young age it’s such a big experience.”
Shawn McCarthy, a U.S. history teacher for the 8th graders, said he is pleased his students have this opportunity after a collaborative effort to make it happen.
While watching a CNN student news broadcast on Election Day, he explained, the students voiced an interest in visiting Washington, D.C.
“During that time the kids actually started asking some deep questions about the nation’s capital, its monuments and also about inauguration day,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy, who has been a teacher for 14 years and was a 12-year DOD school student himself, said the request resonated with him.
“It was the fact here we are -- we have American kids living overseas on military bases and their families are serving our nation. All they wanted to do was go to the states,” he said.
“Not just anywhere in the states -- they wanted to go to the nation’s capital, and they wanted to go to the White House,” McCarthy said. “It wasn’t an amusement park; it wasn’t a fast food chain. It was the White House.”
McCarthy said some of the students hadn’t been back to the U.S. in as long as five years.
“When they come back for the summer, usually, they don’t tour monuments,” he said. “They go see family and then they go back overseas.”
Another point McCarthy emphasized was how hard the students worked to pay for this trip.
“The U.S. government did not spend a single penny on this,” he said.
Still, there were plenty obstacles to overcome, but McCarthy said people and organizations like Deanie Dempsey, wife of Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Military Child Education Coalition and even the vice president’s office stepped in to help.
“I’ve been very fortunate for the last two months to work with people in many different offices whether they [are] military, civilian or either political party,” he said.
“It has showed me, once again, what is great about America -- that people step up,” McCarthy said. “It’s been a great life lesson for our students and also for me as a person.”