By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FAIRBORN -First lady Laura Bush wants millions of American young people to have the kind of education 17-year-old Alexander Herrmann of Mount Airy is getting.
The kind delivered by a teacher who once served in the U.S. military.
Mrs. Bush came to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base here Wednsday for a half-hour ceremony in an aircraft service hangar. About 600 Air Force enlisted men and women and officers heard her speak for 10 minutes on "Troops to Teachers,'' the military's effort to recruit retiring military personnel as classroom teachers in public schools across the country.
"I ask our retiring military men and women to answer a new call - the call to teach,'' said Mrs. Bush, a former school librarian.
"Troops to Teachers'' began eight years ago and has so far recruited more than 4,000 retirees from all military branches. It offers bonuses and stipends to those who enroll and who agree to teach for at least three years.
Mrs. Bush took up "Troops to Teachers'' as a cause when she became first lady 21 months ago. It is a program, she said, that can help address the nationwide shortage of teachers in public schools.
Wednesday at Wright-Patterson, students from Southwest Ohio sat on stage with Mrs. Bush and their teachers, including Alexander Herrmann and his teacher, Jason Barkeloo, a former Army lieutenant.
Alexander is a student of Cincinnati Public Schools' Virtual High School, which means that most of his classwork is done online and through independent study. He does meet frequently with Virtual High School teachers, including Mr. Barkeloo, who teaches science.
"He gives better leadership and plays a mentor role,'' Alexander said of his teacher. "He knows more about society today than most teachers.''
Mrs. Bush, in her speech, singled out Alexander as an example of how "Troops to Teachers'' recruits can make a difference in the lives of young people.
"Students like Alex need real world perspective, they need leadership and, above all, they need somebody to look up to,'' Mrs. Bush said.
"Members of the military have always been tremendous role models,'' she said. "You possess the greatest in character, commitment and resolve.''
Mrs. Bush came to the Air Force base outside of Dayton to honor three former military men who are now educators and to give them "Excellence in Teaching'' awards.
One of the teachers, Bill Byrd of Madison, Ala., spent 15 years in the Navy, retiring as a lieutenant, before deciding to go into teaching in his native state.
His military life, Mr. Byrd said, was good preparation for handling a classroom of middle school students.
"It is impossible to exist in a military environment and not learn how to impart information to others,'' the 43-year-old Alabaman said.
Another of the honorees, 45-year-old Michael Glaze of Beaufort, S.C., spent 21 years in the Air Force before retiring and entering the "Troops to Teachers'' program. Today, he teaches fourth-graders in his hometown.
Trading an air base for a classroom took some adjusting, Mr. Glaze said, "but it was worth it.''
"Making the transition was tough. In the military, if you tell somebody to do something, they do it,'' Mr. Glaze said. "Then, I find myself in a middle school where it doesn't always work that way.''
The third honoree was Eusebio Bretado, a native of Mexico who came to the United States as a child and grew up in a Los Angeles barrio. He entered the Army as a young man and put himself through night college as he worked his way up to the rank of staff sergeant.
Today, he teaches history and English to Hispanic children in El Paso, Texas.
"The reward in this is not the money,'' Mr. Bretado said. "It is in doing a job where you walk to your car and a student stops you and says `Thanks to you, I am reading.' "
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