The Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Veterans Association once again hosted their annual parade and ceremony to recognize and honor the Memorial Day holiday. This year,the group also took time to pay tribute to two members of the Jefferson County community who have contributed to the education of many future veterans.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgts. (Ret.) Will and Stephanie Poe both served for more than 20 years on active duty. The two were responsible after their retirement for starting the local chapter of the Jefferson High School Junior ROTC, where they have served as instructors since 2002. The couple will retire at the end of the 2014 school year.
Veteran's Association Commander Doug Craze shared the details of the couples' military careers with over 100 guests gathered for Monday's ceremony.
Stephanie Poe was a member of the dental corps throughout her career, with an expertise in forensic dentistry. Her duty stations included Germany, where she became the NCO in charge of enlisted dental training. She was selected to serve on the State Department medical humanitarian mission to Senegal, West Africa, providing dental care under primitive conditions. During the Gulf War, her forensic dentistry expertise helped to identify airmen who were killed in action. She served as the superintendent of dental services at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and later as head of all enlisted dental training at the Air Force's largest teaching hospital, Wilford Hall, at Lackland Air Force Base.
Will Poe's career started out as an Air Force security policeman. Later, he beame involved in a classified assignment, Craze shared. Once it was de-classified, it was revealed that Will was involved with the F-117 Stealth Fighter program. While in Germany, he was an instructor at the Kisling NCO Academy, teaching leadership, management, communication skills and world affairs to mid-level leaders. He was also the director of operations. When assigned in Turkey,he helped revitalize the base's operations after the Gulf War. He was also the commandant of the base's Airman Leadership School. He later became the Director of Public Affairs for the 67th Intelligence Wing, the then largest operational wing with more than 10,000 members at more than 100 locations worldwide.
The couple met while stationed in Germany in 1986. Their first date was July 4 of that year. They married in 1989 and started their family which expanded to include daughter Katrina and sons, Matt, Luke and Sam.
Stephanie commented that the couple got into teaching when the Air Force put out a call for people retired from active duty who would like to teach. They both taught JROTC at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal, Va., before starting the chapter at Jefferson High School.
Some of the many accomplishments of the program at Jefferson include the designation of the unit as a Distinguished Unit or Distinguished Unit with Merit for each year since 2002. Less than 10 units of the 884 in all of th AFJROTC have earned this distinction.
Both Will and Stephanie have been selected by the Headquarters AFJROTC as outstanding instructors, among the 2,000 instructors nationwide.
The JROTC at Jefferson, under their leadership, has raised more than $44,000 for the Jefferson County Shoe and Coat Fund. They have led more than 25 Red Cross blood drives.
Of the utmost importance is the impact the couple has had on students in their program. They have assisted 11 cadets who have been accepted to, or graduated from, the U.S. Service Academies. They have led by example more than 2,000 cadets through the program, one that has a 100 percent graduation rate for members. Ninety percent of those graduates have gone on to higher learning institutions.
While the teaching has been something the couple has enjoyed, they both agree that it is time to move on to other endeavors. Spending time with family, their children and grandchildren, will be the focus of Stephanie's second retirement. Will also, plans to enjoy that time, but he also has plans to hike the Appalachian Trail in the upcoming year. While he says after that he may return to work, it won't be to teaching.
Following the recognition of their service by the local Veterans group, the keynote speaker, Gabrielle "Gabby" Lovell, Cadet Commander at Jefferson High's JROTC, shared her thoughts on the importance of Memorial Day and the need to remember it is not simply a three-day weekend with picnics and sales. She encouraged all to remember what the military community has given for the country.