Note from Vicki Bell: This post, written by welding instructor Marty Rice, honors his students, particularly those who have served in the Armed Forces, and illustrates the special bond between teacher and student.
One of the worst things a teacher can hear is the death of a student. I've lost them to suicide, drowning, car and motorcycle accidents, and a plane crash. Two, a Soldier and Marine, fought during the roughest times in Iraq, only to come home and be taken in a motorcycle wreck and plane crash. So young and so much ahead of them, they went too soon.
After you've taught high school a while you get where you can predict a lot of student's personalities the first day of class. Some more than others of course, but with Kyle I pegged him pretty much right away. His ornery smile and eyes cutting back and forth around the classroom told me he was gonna be a handful.
Sure enough, as I was talking about all of the virtues of being out in the welding field, I saw his hand go up. In a voice that was way too nice and polite he asked, “Well then, Mr. Rice, might I ask why you aren't out there making all that big money right now?" He looked at his best pal, Zach, who nodded with approval of his wisenheimer question. Without missing a beat I told him it was "because it's fun teaching knuckleheads like you."
Kyle was always getting in trouble back at his home campus, but at our career center it usually just took me hollering "KNOCK IT OFF!!!" to get him back on track. He and Zach loved welding in the shop, but the classroom was a different story. They were two peas in a pod, and I must've told them to "SHUT UP" a million times. They'd look at me with these sickening sad faces like I had just hurt their feelings. Five minutes later they'd start yapping all over again.
Kyle was tough, and strong as an ox, but one day I noticed something sad about him. I'm blessed with a sixth sense of feeling there’s something up with one of my guys or gals. When I get that feeling, almost like the hairs standing up on my neck, I'll call them in my office for a one-on-one talk.
When I asked Kyle what was wrong, he looked at me with tears in his eyes. Someone had told him he would never amount to anything, and it hurt him deeply.
I gave him a pep talk, assuring him it was up to HIM, whether he'd amount to anything. When he regained his composure, I had him open my office door as I pretended to be yelling at him. Since that happened quite often, no one was suspicious if he had a tear in his eye, and he went on with his work in the shop.
Kyle got in trouble one too many times at his home campus and ended up transferring to another school. I didn't see him again until a couple of years later, when one of my students told me there was a soldier wanting to talk with me. There he was, fresh out of Army boot camp standing tall, looking proud. He'd come by to tell me he was sorry he didn’t finish my class, but wanted me to know he was indeed going to amount to something.
A few months later I heard Kyle had shipped off to Iraq. After just a few months in that country, he got an early R&R and came by to see me. He was excited as heck and couldn't wait to tell me what he'd done. Seems his buddy's Humvee had only a small armor plate that left him exposed to sniper fire. So Kyle had finagled a welding machine and built braces to hold bulletproof glass.
One morning, after returning from a patrol, his buddy literally pulled him out of his rack telling him to come quick. Kyle thought they were taking incoming mortar fire, but his friend assured him they weren't. At his buddy's vehicle, he saw the shattered but still intact bulletproof glass on the brackets he had fabricated. His do-it-yourself "up-armor" had probably saved his buddy"s life.
He looked out at my shop and said, "Here's where I learned how to do it." I told him how honored I was and how much I appreciated him taking part of his precious R&R time to come see me. As I watched him leave I realized how blessed I was to be a teacher.
Kyle found out his tour was extended when he got back to Iraq, which meant it'd be a full year before he'd be back home. We emailed back and forth, and he told me of going on IED patrols. He loved the adrenaline rush and was very proud of what he and his buddies were doing to help both our guys and innocent civilians. He'd sometimes volunteer to take an extra patrol for someone who was married or a short timer.
When he got home, I told him whoever said he'd never amount to anything could only hope to equal his legacy. He smiled and said he'd just put in for EOD (explosive ordinance disposal). I asked if he was crazy, and he told me, "Everyone has their time, Mr. Rice; if God calls me, I'll go doing what I wanted to do!" He was gung ho and ready to go. He loved the Army, loved living dangerously, and loved serving his country.
After school one day one, of my former students came to see me, as they often do. At first I didn't recognize him; they change so quickly after high school. When I did recognize him, I knew something was wrong. He asked if I'd heard about Kyle and Zach, and I felt sick to my stomach. When I said no, he told me they'd both been killed in motorcycle wrecks, only a month apart from each other.
Sean, Brandon, Emmitt, Kyle, Zach, Travis, BJ, and Carson … you went too soon. Rest in peace fellas. I thank God for my brief time with all of you.
Excerpts from an email from Kyle written in Iraq, June 2007. Punctuation flaws are because it was written quickly from a combat zone with limited time and computer access …
ive got those pics i told you about, the different things ive welded
up over here as far as small weld jobs on the vehicles to the uparmor, cause
we arent getting funded the way we should. i had a 45 day long mission.
im a engineer equipment mechanic. they (Infantry) got me rolling out on missions with them over here,
its awesome. i do the same stuff they do, route clearance (think i told you bout that, we go out drive 5 to 10mph and look out a window for i.e.d hoping we find them before they find us) to normal patrols and guarding I.P. (iraqi police) stations. i love getting behind that fifty cal. nothing like it! and i also get to wrench which ive always
loved to do.
but its awesome talking to you. every now and then ill be welding and ill catch myself telling myself how to weld a certain way and it makes me think of the welding booths. im trying to teach a few of the other guys simple stuff i talk to zak chesters lil sister everynow and then but take care mr. rice, thanks for all of your prayers from you and your friends.