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Armed Forces Luncheon to Connect Students, Veterans

30 Schools Signed Up So Far for May 13 Event

A new event honoring America’smilitary will help West Michigan students appreciate what soldiers past and present have done for their country, says Katie Pennington, Kenowa Hills High School principal.

She is one of the organizers of the first annual Armed Forces Thanksgiving luncheon, to be held May 13 at the Amway Grand Plaza.

What: West Michigan Armed Forces Thanksgiving
When: 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 13
Where: Amway Grand Plaza, 187 Monroe Ave. NW
Invited: Students and adult sponsors from schools within Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon ISDs
To sign up students, contact Katie Pennington at kpennington@khps.org

armedforcesthx.org for more information

Schools from the Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon ISDs have been invited to each send three students and an adult sponsor, who will join with area businesses to sit with and honor members of the military.

“On the student end, we want to educate, inform and dispel commonly held stereotypes about what a veteran does and looks like,” Pennington said, noting vets encompass college graduates, career military and business owners.

“On the veteran end, we want to honor and celebrate them.”

Pennington volunteered to help recruit students in large part because of one veteran in particular – her father.

Edward Vartanian served in the Army’s 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion in the Vietnam War, flying in and out of combat zones and fighting in the month-long Battle of Dak To in late 1967.

Her father still carries injuries from the constant beating his body took then, but rarely speaks of what he went through, Pennington said. His quiet endurance is likely shared by many who will be honored at the thanksgiving luncheon.

“I’ve never seen his uniforms or medals,” said Pennington, who coaxed stories of the war from him as a history student in college. “They’re hidden away like his memories are.

“I felt like this was a real easy way to honor him, even though it isn’t directly honoring him.”

Keynote speaker Admiral Eric Olson
Keynote speaker Admiral Eric Olson

Special Ops Commander to Keynote

As of Feb. 19, nearly 30 schools had signed up for the event, which will feature 60 tables, each seating 10 people including two veterans along with students and business people. The keynote speaker will be Admiral Eric Olson, a retired, four-star admiral, Navy SEAL and commander of U.S. Special Operations Command from 2007 to 2011. Under his command the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden.

Pennington said she hopes the event sponsored by military, education and business groups will give students “a renewed appreciation for the military, and a real-life example to look to when they think of the military.”

Organizers hope students share the experience with others in events at their schools.

“It is a nice reminder of how we fit into the bigger picture,” she said. “I knew that the education piece was desperately needed not just for our young people, but for everybody.”


Thanksgiving Press Release

West Michigan Armed Forces Thanksgiving

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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