It might have been just the push that Kyle Ramage and his classmates needed to volunteer more often: hearing two military veterans share their stories about experiencing adversity and continuing to serve others.
Ramage, a 17-year-old senior at Bellevue West High, and his classmates first heard from former Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers on Thursday afternoon.
Chambers reminded the students to know their history and to never forget the sacrifices made by generations of Americans.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Chambers rushed into the burning Pentagon to save lives.
He also has become known for the prolonged salute he gives to Patriot Guard Riders who visit Washington, D.C., during the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally each Memorial Day. His salute sometimes lasts four to five hours.
“After 20 minutes, that's when the hell sets in,” Chambers said.
Ramage and his classmates also heard from former Army Staff Sgt. Bobby Henline, who joked and shared stories about his past.
Henline was the lone survivor when a roadside bomb exploded under his Humvee in Iraq, killing four members of his 82nd Airborne Division squad.
He has overcome severe burns and 46 surgeries. Now he is a stand-up comic who has performed in Las Vegas and across the country.
High school students from more than a dozen area school districts heard the men speak about integrity and enjoying life Thursday at Elkhorn South High School. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman also spoke at the event, organized by Patriotic Productions. The World-Herald helped sponsor the event.
Henline began his comedic routine by taking a jab at the host high school, which opened in the fall of 2010.
He said it was a nice school, but the district apparently ran out of money while building it.
“You've got no mascot,” Henline said.
The school does have a mascot — albeit an inanimate one: the Storm.
Henline was 17 when he joined the Army. By 19 he was an Operation Desert Storm veteran.
After the 9/11 attacks, Henline, then 30, enlisted in the Army again.
In April 2007, Army Staff Sgt. Henline was riding in a Humvee with four other soldiers when a roadside bomb, composed of four artillery shells and buried on a dusty road, was detonated underneath the vehicle. The Humvee burst into flames and flipped into the air.
Henline was burned to his skull. Eventually his left hand was amputated, and he has endured dozens of surgeries that have taken skin from other places on his body and placed it on his head.
Because of those surgeries, Henline joked that he now picks lint out of his ears. It also gets worse, he said. “Right now, I'm mooning all of you.”
He started writing to handle his feelings, and he encouraged students to pen a song or write in a diary about what they're feeling.
Henline used jokes to communicate his message, but Chambers delivered a more serious approach.
He asked the students how many of them could name a veteran from World War I. He also asked them if they could imagine using their iPod or playing their Nintendo for only a limited amount of time to conserve energy, making an analogy to the rationing of goods during World War II.
The students don't have to serve in combat to help America, he said. They can live their lives with integrity, he said, and they can honor America's veterans.
Minutes after the speeches, Ramage and his fellow Air Force Junior ROTC members already had decided how they could help others. They could swing by the VA Medical Center and check out their volunteer opportunities. And they also could try to help out homeless veterans at the Open Door Mission.
“You always need a little bit of inspiration to kick yourself in the butt and get things going,” Ramage said.
Tim Chambers shares his story.
Bobby Henline speaks about his experiences.