TALLADEGA -- Students and faculty at Talladega High School observed Veterans Day on Thursday with a program featuring students in the JROTC program as well as remarks from the city’s newly elected mayor, Timothy Ragland.
Ragland said he was in the ROTC program throughout his high school career but added he knew he wanted to serve his country in the military long before that.
Ragland said he was 10 years old on Sept. 11, 2001, and that he could still remember watching the towers fall in the library at his elementary school.
“I heard a teacher say we were going to war, and that was the first time I thought about joining the Army,” he said.
He was in ROTC for four years at Talladega High School, where he said he learned three major lessons: “The first was about professionalism, the second was about always enjoying the moment and the third was about not ever taking anything for granted,” he explained.
Toward the end of his high school career, he said he passed a recruiting station and decided it was time to join up. He took a practice Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, then went to Montgomery to take the real test.
“At the time, they were offering $20,000 signing bonuses, so naturally, I took that,” he said. “Looking back, giving $20,000 to a 17-year-old kid might not have been the best idea.”
Ragland said he went on to spend eight years in the Army, where he picked up more life lessons: “I learned that accountability is the key, especially when someone else’s survival depends on your actions. And it’s the same in school, where if you’re an athlete, your coaches and teammates are depending on you to help the team win. Your teachers and administrators are counting on you to pay attention in class, or you will fail.
“And (I also learned) the importance of embracing differences. I found that the people I met in the Army were like the people I met in high school. There were some class clowns, there were people who were just overly dramatic and there were people who wanted you to do all the work for them. I also met some lifelong friends there.”
The other great lessons, he added, involved paying attention to detail and learning from past mistakes, whether yours or someone else’s.
“Mistakes are a part of our DNA,” he said. “We all make mistakes and we have to admit to ourselves and everyone else when we are wrong. That’s the difference between going to a championship and getting eliminated in the first round, or getting into your dream college and getting in somewhere you really don’t want to go, or nowhere at all.
“Right now, I’ve got 15,000 people depending on me to do the right thing as the first African-American mayor and the youngest mayor in a century. I will make mistakes, and some people are probably just waiting on me to make those mistakes. But I will acknowledge them, and I will admit when I am wrong.”
“If you remember these things, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.”
The program also acknowledged all the school system employees who served, including Superintendent Tony Ball and Samuel Wiggins (Navy), Patricia Cathey, Anthony Williams, Barry Carmichael and Wayne Mitchel (Army), and Landon Jones (Air Force).
State Rep. Barbara Boyd also attended the event, although she was not included in the program.