HOWARD — Shortly after 9/11, the East Knox High School graduating class of 2003 ventured out into the world to begin their lives in a whole new way. Ten years later, alumni are reuniting to share their experiences of time spent apart. Whether it’s acquiring life experiences through parenthood, career opportunities, educational advancement or fighting for our freedom, they have done it all.
Since experiencing the global impact of 9/11 a great many of the alumni have stepped forward to report for duty of a higher calling.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew Doup
“At the time, we were just sophomores in high school, now we are Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen having served on battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some former classmates serve on the homefront while their spouses serve on the front lines,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew Doup, an 2003 EKHS graduate.
“I have come to realize that most people I meet in the military are from small towns like mine, and I think there’s something to be said about small-town values making a big time impact in our armed forces,” said Doup.
Roughly 17 percent of the class of 2003 enlisted, commissioned or married into the Armed Forces. Doup has been deployed four times since 2008 to countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and the southern Philippines. Currently Doup is stationed stateside in Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico where he resides with his wife, and former East Knox High School alumna, Sarah (Segraves) Doup.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nathan Lawson
Among the current veterans serving is U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nathan Lawson, who returned from Afghanistan last week. Lawson is serving with the 384th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Wayne, Ind.
“I always knew that I wanted to join the Army shortly after my brother enlisted in 2002,” said Lawson. “I decided for myself that I wanted to obtain my degree first and commission as an officer into the Army, I was able to do that when I commissioned in May 2010.”
When asked how being from a small community like Howard has helped to shape him as a person, Lawson said it was a support system that has helped him the most.
“I was able to grow up with a lot of genuine and caring people when it came to my parents, friends, teachers and coaches,” said Lawson. “With this great support structure I knew the value of hard work, dedication and discipline. All of these things have helped me throughout my experiences in the Army.”
As for the greatest struggle Lawson has run across during deployment, he said it is a mix of personal and professional struggles.
“Professionally speaking it was working with a foreign government and having to train them when you have differences in culture, language barrier and differences in how our armies operate,” said Lawson.
“Struggles of life are still going on at home with your family and friends but you can’t be there to help with the problems or join in the celebrations of the holidays,” said Lawson.
Lawson described one of the best moments of his time in the Army so far as when he was able to meet up with his brother, U.S. 1st Lt. Adam Lawson of the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Ky., in Afghanistan this past spring.
“Seeing my brother while over in Afghanistan was by far one of the most memorable times I have ever had. Being so far away from family and friends, it was really quite amazing to see him there,” said Lawson.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Seth Swearengin
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Seth Swearengin is currently deployed to Northern Afghanistan and is with the 577 Expeditionary Prime Beef Squadron (EPBS). Swearengin has been with the Air Force since his first deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, in 2009.
“Stateside I am stationed at Holloman Air Force base in Alamogordo, N.M. I have been there for two years and before that I was stationed in England for three years at Royal Air Force Station Mildenhall, U.K.,” said Swearengin.
Swearengin stated that growing up in a small town community has been very beneficial to him and useful in his job with the Air Force.
“As a supervisor in the Air Force developing Airmen to have strong core values and to be accountable for one another is part of my job,” said Swearengin.
Swearengin’s wife, Ryan Swearengin, is also in the U.S. Air Force where both she and Swearengin work together in the 49th Civil Engineer Squadron. Together they have two children, Gavin, 9, and Bailey, 7.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Anthony Rice
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Anthony Rice enlisted in late 2004. Rice started out at Lackland Air Force Base and Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas. Since 2005, Rice has also been deployed to Royal Air Force Station Lakenheath, U.K., and later Kusan Air Force base in South Korea. Currently Rice is working in an undisclosed location.
When asked how being from a small community has helped to shape him as a person, Rice reiterated the importance of family.
“My parents, Tim and Kyma Rice, grandparents and close friends helped me realize that I could be anyone, do anything and go anywhere,” said Rice. “Another advantage of being from a small community is knowing the value and importance of being a close-knit team. You must be willing and able to know each other, trust each other and work together, dedicating all efforts to reach the team’s goal. The same is required for all military teams and units that are out there accomplishing the mission on a daily basis,” said Rice.
Rice stated a common truth among those who are, or have been a member of the Armed Forces, the most challenging struggle is deployment.
“When a troop is deployed, they may not be the one who suffers from it, but they are the one who must stay physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong so that they can accomplish their mission and return home safely,” said Rice. “That’s a pretty tall order considering that most military personnel will have to do this every day, for hundreds of days at a time, during each of several deployments during their career.”
Although unable to share his current duties, Rice said that the most memorable experiences of being in the Air Force have been the places he has gone and the people he has come in contact with.
“While the military is a tough and demanding lifestyle, it’s extremely rewarding,” said Rice.
On the home front
Some battles are fought at home as military spouses keep things familiar and in order for those abroad as they return home. Amy (Bumgarner) Piggrem and Sarah (Segraves) Doup are both proud military wives as well as East Knox High School alumnae.
Piggrem’s husband, U.S. Navy Lt. Brian Piggrem, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2006 and has since been moving once each year since the couple married in 2007. Currently Piggrem resides in California with one daughter, Kadena, 2, and another child due in October.
“Since then I’ve been teaching but I’ve also had the opportunity to serve the military and it’s families by working as a command ombudsman,” said Piggrem.
While Sarah (Segraves) Doup’s husband, Andrew, was deployed to Afghanistan she had to do everything she could to stay strong. She stated that the most challenging part of being a military spouse is, “the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We have been through deployments overseas, cross-country moves, and I’m always aware that he may be sent away again,” said Sarah.
“The lack of stability is hard to adjust to, but it has made me a stronger person and a more patient wife,” she said. “I support Andrew in his service to our country and am very proud of his dedication.
Other members of the class of 2003 that are veterans include U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Klick, who works as a weather officer currently deployed to Okinawa, Japan. Klick graduated from The University of Oklahoma with a degree in meteorology and has been stationed in South Carolina, South Korea and most recently Japan. Alumnus Matthew Jacobs enlisted in the U.S. Army but has since returned to civilian life.
The East Knox High School class of 2003 is planning to reunite at Flapper’s Bar & Grille on Friday at 8 p.m. and enjoy the activities of First Friday together.
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