More than 5,000 Clarksville-Montgomery County middle and high school students participated in the Kiwanis Club of Clarksville’s annual essay contest, which honors local veterans. 

Students from Fort Campbell High School and Clarksville High School also participated in the annual contest. 

Since 2000, more than 23,000 students interviewed veterans and wrote essays as part of the competition. 

On Nov. 12, the day following Veterans Day, the Kiwanians will take time to honor the winning students, veterans, teachers and parents with the annual Kiwanis Club of Clarksville’s Awards Luncheon. 

Per the essay instructions, the students were tasked with answering the question, “How can understanding the service of (veteran’s name) influence and benefit my generation?”

While the club considers each participant and submission winners, 23 middle and high school area students will be recognized at the luncheon. 

Each winning student will read an excerpt from their essay and receive a cash award and plaque.  

This year’s high school grand-prize winner was Isabella “Bella” Sullivan, the daughter of Dennis and Karen Sullivan. 

The middle school grand-prize winner was Anna Hellums, the daughter of Lt. Col. Josh and Deborah Hellums. 

Bella Sullivan and Anna Hellums will each receive an extra $100 cash prize and have the distinguished honor of a United States flag flown over the U.S. Capitol, courtesy of U.S. Rep. Mark Green, of Clarksville. 

Ron Smithfield, chairman of the Clarksville Kiwanis Essay Contest, said the panel of judges, which included history professors from Austin Peay State University, other historians, veterans and former teachers, all agreed the quality of the submissions this year excelled submissions from all years. 

“We are very excited to have more than 5,500 students in middle and high school interview veterans or active-duty military members and write essays,” Smithfield said. “A special thanks for great cooperation of the school administrators, teachers, students and especially the veterans.  They are all winners.”  

Bella Sullivan, a senior at Clarksville High School, chose a close person in her life to honor with her essay.

Her grandfather, Sgt. 1st Class James Shuecraft, served 20 years in the U.S. Army and retired from Fort Campbell in 1992. 

Shuecraft said the interview was a good experience. 

“I’m so proud of her for writing so well,” Shuecraft said. “This is an important project by the Kiwanis Club - to allow young people to appreciate the service of local veterans." 

Anna Hellums, a seventh-grade student at Clarksville Academy, also chose a close person in her life to honor with her essay. 

She interviewed her father, Lt. Col. Josh Hellums. 

Grand-prize winner Isabella Sullivan’s essay

How can understanding the service of Sgt. 1st Class James Shuecraft’s influence benefit my generation?

Soldiers face many difficulties when they go to war, yet, the experience of war allows them to find their true identities as they grow through the adversities they face. My grandfather, SFC James Shuecraft enlisted in the Army on January 1, 1972, and retired on February 2, 1992. Through his twenty years of service, he found his love for his country, his never-ending determination, and his unwavering courage. Understanding the service of a veteran like SGT Shuecraft can influence and benefit my generation by teaching us to find our true selves in the darkest of times, to be persistent in the face of adversity, and to be courageous in all we do.

Young men and women often enter the military because they don’t have many options, and they haven’t discovered their passions yet. When my grandpa enlisted in 1972, he only did so because he was failing electrical school and could no longer pay for his education. When asked what he learned about himself while he was in the service, he said, “I learned there was nothing I couldn’t do. I could do anything.” My grandfather learned that his personal growth was the result of challenging situations, and much like my grandfather, author Mark A. Melanson believes, “it is often from our failures or setbacks that we learn our greatest lessons in life.” The men and women in the military are consistently thrown into obstacles that will define the type of person they become. When a veteran encounters the passing of a close friend or a near-death experience, he or she learns to find sufficient ways to cope with tragedies he or she encounters. The ferocity of war can teach a soldier that they can do anything, much like my grandfather learned. My generation can learn from veterans by understanding how necessary it is to be open to learning about oneself, even when it feels like the world is crumbling.

My grandpa grew up on a farm, so when he got to basic training, he wasn’t struggling with the physical aspect of the Army, rather the mental aspect. He told me how the first few weeks were terrifying because he was “yelled at, forced to do pushups every five minutes, and told to keep the barracks spotless. The instructors didn’t make it easier because they knew they could take advantage of you, so they did.” When I asked him what helped him get through his service, he simply said, “Determination.” Without determination, he would not have risen to the ranks of E7 in a matter of six years. According to author George M. Reynolds, people stay with their jobs because “individuals desire work that is enjoyable, interesting (but balanced), provides compensation, gives career opportunities, and recognizes their efforts.” This checklist proves that the military is a worthwhile line of work. By understanding the determination of veterans and the desirability of being in the military, my generation can be inspired to be resolute in everything we do.

It takes tremendous amounts of courage to go into foreign lands and fight tirelessly, facing death every second of the way. It also takes courage to leave a family for months, even years, at a time, not knowing if coming back home is even an option. As I spoke to my grandpa about how courageous it is to enlist, he told me that “there are a lot of benefits to going in. Not just health benefits and free education, but the food, the guys, and the places you go make it worthwhile. Sure, it’s scary, but it’s what needs to be done. If I didn’t do it, then who would have?” Men and women with the bravery to risk their lives for their country deserve the utmost respect. The anonymous author of “The Courage to Care,” says that a man in the military deserves “respect because he had the courage to risk his life for his convictions. Respect because, despite it all, he still cares.” If we take time to understand what true courage looks like, my generation can learn to be fearless and to continue in our endeavors, even if it terrifies us.

It is essential for us to understand and respect our veterans and their journey to self-discovery. Understanding a veteran’s work can help my generation learn to find our true selves, to have determination, and to be courageous. Also, understanding our veterans’ experiences can help the children of today decide whether or not they want to enter the military when they become adults. Veterans deserve our respect because they sacrifice their wellbeing to work diligently for the future of the United States. After all, America wouldn’t be the “land of the free and the home of the brave” without them.

Grand-prize winner Anna Hellum’s essay

How can understanding the service of Lt. Col. Josh Hellums’ influence benefit my generation?

Ever since I can remember, I can recall hearing, “Freedom is not free, and this is the small price our family pays.” I would hear this phrase before my dad would leave for a trip, “over the ocean” or on some sort of training where he had to miss a holiday or birthday.

My father, Lt. Col. Josh Hellums, has been serving in the U.S. Army for over seventeen years and he still has a few more in him; so, he knows what he’s talking about. I have learned from my father’s service, that not only is the soldier dedicating, or even possibly sacrificing their life, but also the time spent with his or her family. As somebody once said, “A veteran is someone who, at one point in their, life wrote a blank check made payable to the people of the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life.” 

Unfortunately, my generation tends to take the service of veterans for granted. We tend to forget that they put their life out for us and are willing to die for us, so that we can live in a safe country without fear of being picked up off of the side of the road and being enslaved like some other countries.

Even the simplest of things that we may not even recognize, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, right to keep and bear arms, and the right to due process are ours for the keeping as long as we have people willing to fight to protect it. 

Quite frankly, I believe that my generation does not pay enough attention to those people who have served in the military, contributing to form and protect this beautiful nation that we live in today.

By understanding the service of our military veterans, my generation could benefit greatly by understanding that there is always a price to be paid. That price may not be clearly evident to all, but someone somewhere is paying even for the freedoms we enjoy today. We tend to perceive that our freedom just happened out of the blue, but in reality, brave men and women that came before us made great sacrifices for us and continue to do the same today.

Those veterans paid that price with their own “currency” in the form of time away from family, friends, and loved ones and in some cases with their own lives. This was the case with my dad’s grandfather who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II.

Even though my father’s service in the military is a small price for the huge reward of freedom, I cannot thoroughly express the worry my whole family experiences when we cannot see him or have him hold us while he is deployed. However, the joy and relief we feel when he finally returns home is one of the best feelings I have ever experienced in my life. These are only some of the emotions that race through a military family’s mind during the time of a deployment. But all in all, I am so grateful that my father is serving in the military and protecting our nation, our freedom, and our family. I am glad to have and still be paying my small part to benefit the country that I love.

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