ETCETERA - Time magazine's cover story features Wa-Hi grad

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The April 15 Time magazine's cover features "A Captain's Story/In the heart of Taliban country, the commander of a U.S. rifle company made it his mission to reopen a school in Afghanistan. Here's what he learned, by Joe Klein," the cover copy reads.

U.S. Army Capt. Jeremiah Ryan Ellis, a 1998 Walla Walla High School graduate, is the featured source in that article, "Afghanistan: A Tale of Soldiers and a School."

As commander of Dog Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, he and his 120 soldiers represent an American presence in Senjaray, near Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan.

Canadians built the Pir Mohammed School there in 2005. It was mostly attended by boys. The facilities consist of two buildings, a row and a horseshoe of classrooms, separated by a playground in a walled compound, the article said.

The townspeople were mostly happy about their children learning to read and write. But not the local Taliban, which closed the school in 2007.

They broke the windows and furniture, booby-trapped the site and laced the area with improvised explosive devices. When Americans came to Senjaray in December 2009, residents again thought about reopening the school.

This particular school is deep in enemy country, in Zhari district, reportedly 80 percent controlled by the Taliban. The Russians dubbed it the "Heart of Darkness," the article said, and eventually refused to travel through it.

"From the start, the people here said they wanted better security and the school," Jeremiah told reporter Klein. Jeremiah's people asked the Afghans what problems they had and what they needed, following a TCAF or Tactical Conflict Assessment Framework/interview script.

"Anyway, we've been asking the TCAF questions for months now. People look at us and think, ‘Why do you keep asking the same questions and not do anything? You must be one stupid bunch of Caucasians.'" It boiled down to an ongoing request to reopen the school, he told Klein.

"No one - no one - wanted to reopen the Pir Mohammed School more than Jeremiah Ellis," Klein wrote.

Jeremiah worked on it for months and hoped it could be Dog Company's legacy in Senjaray.

The Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine is to protect the people, "provide them with security and government services, and they will turn away from the insurgency." So what could be better? And Jeremiah "really believed in counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine."

It's been a hard four months there, though, because it's controlled by the Taliban, there's corruption in local Afghan leadership and there's a command structure ensnared by bureaucracy, the article said.

But as April began, the reopening of the Pir Mohammed School seemed at hand. Jeremiah got a Canadian bomb-removal team lined up.

"His superiors at battalion headquarters thought that reopening a school in the Taliban's front yard was such a feel-good story that a reporter should be around to record it. I happened to be in the neighborhood, and Capt. Ellis graciously invited me ... along for the ride."

Jeremiah started as a sophomore at Wa-Hi in 1995, he said by e-mail, after his family moved to Washington from Iowa. He'd been expelled from school a few times for bad behavior and served many hours at in-school-suspension.

He saw an opportunity to start anew when he came to Walla Walla and the "WWHS JROTC program gave me the fresh start I needed, with encouraging mentors and incentive to improve."

Gerald Taylor, the JROTC Rifle Team coach and instructor, recognized Jeremiah's potential for something bigger and served as a mentor throughout Jeremiah's three years at Wa-Hi.

"Within the JROTC program I found something to take pride in, the potential to advance based on merit and the possibility for a career after high school," he recalled.

It was the first time he'd been considered for leadership; and at 14, he was uncomfortable with the idea. "I asked my dad, ‘why should I get to be in charge, I am not any better than the other kids.' He told me not to be ashamed of being a leader; that it doesn't take the best violinist or pianist to conduct the orchestra, just someone that can help everyone play in harmony.

"Ever since that time, I have been comfortable with leadership positions and have sought out the most challenging assignments."

He was so gung-ho about serving his country that after he was severely injured in a sports event in 1996-97, he refused to have his spleen removed for fear it would bar him from future military service.

"We're down to the last few months of our deployment - and that's a dangerous time," Ellis told Klein. "The natural tendency is to get careless and defensive. To keep them safe, I need these guys to stay focused and on top of the mission."

At 29, Jeremiah isn't planning on an Army career. After Wa-Hi, he earned a degree in outdoor education from the University of New Hampshire. He told Klein he wants to apply that knowledge for experiential education, "rock climbing, hiking and so forth - as a form of therapy for veterans coming home."

He joined the Army to get scholarship money for a master's degree, but is an enthusiastic soldier, a graduate of the Army's challenging Ranger School.

"I joined the Army because it was an outdoor thing. You know, jump out of helicopters, crawl in the mud, sit around the campfire. But being a captain is the limit for that sort of stuff. Anything above this is a desk job."

Klein described him as having "quiet blue eyes and a garrulous informality that is explosive, intense and distinctly American."

Jeremiah was done after one tour in Iraq, but instead, the Army stop-lossed him, which meant involuntary re-enlistment.

On Facebook, Jeremiah posted that he is confident about where he's going and proud of where he's been.

"I love the outdoors and teaching; my life is centered on these two passions. I am a very active person and very driven to achieve my goals. The greatest satisfaction is giving something to others and I consider myself very socially conscious." He resigned his commission as an Army officer in May 2008 and began his dream of traveling the world as an adventure guide. Within a month, "the Army threatened to recall me to active duty." To retain some control over his career, he rescinded his resignation and got orders to attend a Captains Career Course at Fort Knox, Ky., from July to December 2008.

On vacation that December, he mountaineered, sea kayaked and backpacked from hostel to hostel in New Zealand. He also went scuba diving in Fiji before returning to an immediate station in January at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. There he assumed new duties as a company commander for an infantry company bound to the mountainous regions of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

"I hope that with all my background in mountainous and cold weather operations that I can do some good there," he

added on the post. Jeremiah has blogged for Time magazine about his experiences in Senjaray, which can be accessed at swampland.blogs.time.com/2010/04/18/senjaray-update/ .

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Walla Walla School District 140 honored four area residents in celebration of Volunteer Appreciation Month.

Superintendent Rich Carter said the 2009-2010 Art Regier Volunteers of the Year recipients are Peggy Cox, Jim and Judi Armstrong, Holly Howard and Dr. Alison Kirby.

Began in 1991 as a memorial to "Grandpa Art" Regier, the award epitomizes the spirit of volunteerism in education exampled by Art, a retiree who gave years of service to elementary schools in Walla Walla. "His tireless dedication and concern for the students he served are the inspiration for this award," a release said.

Jean Tobin, Dana Jones, Elissa Stites, Mike Lambert, Michelle Carpenter and Missy Johnson nominated Peggy, who is president of the Green Park PTA and is involved in its math team and fifth-grade novel groups. She also helped develop a math team at Pioneer Middle School and meets regularly with students to prepare the materials needed for the program, send the tests off for correction and help get students signed up for the national competition In her role with PTA, she provided leadership and organized projects to benefit the entire school. She helped students grow academically in content areas with the math team and novel groups and provided them a trusted adult they learned to count on for support. Her effort make her "a tremendous role model to our staff and students," the release said.

Retired professionals Jim and Judi were nominated by Paula Nichols, Tina Holbrook and Lucy Gregoire. They have dedicated many hours the past several years to work with at-risk children. Their "efforts demonstrate your genuine care and concern for the well being of Blue Ridge children." They read with second-grade students one morning each week, bring treats to students on special occasions and holidays and adopt a family in need at Christmas. This devotion makes them "excellent representatives of the Art Regier Volunteer of the Year award. The staff, students and parents at Blue Ridge Elementary have a deep appreciation for your hard work and passion for helping students learn and become good citizens."

Holly, Lincoln Health Center, Citizens for Schools, was nominated by Cindy Meyer and Missy Peterson.

Her vision, hard work and networking skills helped make the Lincoln Health Center become a reality for the community, they said. Lincoln Health Center provides vital health services to Lincoln students in support of their education and well being. Holly earned the trust of the staff and students and has been an inspiration to the entire community. She has been active in other vo lunteer roles including extensive work with the Citizens for Schools committee. Her determination, care and compassion for students made her an excellent representative of this award, the nominators said.

Jim Sporleder and Dan Calzaretta nominated Alison, also with the Lincoln Health Center. They said it was Alison's idea to bring a school-based health center to the community. She helped write the grants and made the connections needed to bring the Health Center to fruition. It provides vital health services to Lincoln students in support of their education and well being. In addition to her medical practice, Alison dedicates two days a week at the Lincoln Health Center. She was cited for earning the trust of the staff and students and being an inspiration to the community.

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Central Middle School Jazz Band garnered a second-place trophy in the junior high division at the Columbia Basin College Jazz Unlimited Jazz Festival April 10 in Pasco. Andrew Kain also received an outstanding soloist award from the judges for his trumpet solos with Central Jazz Band. The band performed three pieces in competition, including "Night Train," "My Funny Valentine," and "Malaguena."

Central Jazz Band's final concert of the year will be 7 p.m. May 10 in the Jack Williams Auditorium at McLoughlin High School. Their conductor is Mike Agidius, band director for Milton-Freewater School District.

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