Linden High School teachers give students a personalized look at Veterans Day

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LINDEN, NJ — Linden High School students got personalized lessons for Veterans Day when two of their teachers held sessions discussing their time in the military.

Social studies teachers Derrick Potts and Gary Mazurek talked to their classes in person while other social studies classes watched and listened via videoconference. The teachers discussed their reasons for joining the military, shared stories about their time in the Army and answered student questions that ranged from “What was the food like?” to “Would you do it over again if given the chance?”

“Mr. Potts and I were incredibly humbled and thankful and very flattered that we were asked to talk about and answer some questions about our experiences serving in the military,” Mazurek said.

Mazurek told students that he enlisted in the Army infantry in 1991, going to Fort Benning, Ga., for infantry training school. He then served three years in Berlin before he was discharged in 1994 and headed to college.

He turned the bulk of the session over to Potts, who, he said, “did far more remarkable and courageous things than I did.”

Potts told students that he served in the Army National Guard while working as a teacher at LHS. He trained for years to work with field artillery.

In 2004, he was sent to Iraq, where he got the chance to combine his work as a soldier with his calling as a teacher.

“They asked if anyone was a teacher,” Potts said. “So I raised my hand, and this colonel says, ‘Have I got a job for you.’ It turned out it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”

Potts was put in charge of a school where they educated Iraqi civilians who had been arrested to give them skills to find work and to understand the new Iraqi government.

“It was our job to educate these people the best that we could,” Potts said. “It was really successful. I had trained for 20 years to fight with guns, and I ended up fighting a war with education.”

Both Potts and Mazurek said that they entered the service looking for direction and discipline. When a student asked them if they would do it again, they gave nuanced answers.

“I support the troops,” Mazurek said. “They’re all like me — working-class kids who were looking for an alternative coming out of high school. But when I think about war, I want my nation to be a nation that looks to war as the very last alternative. Just like we do in the classroom: We don’t want our students fighting in the classroom. We want our students to talk out our differences and hopefully come to some sort of resolution.”

Potts told students the military experience is whatever you make of it.

“If you have an idea that it’s going to be awful, then it’s going to be awful,” he said. “If you want to go in and learn and see different things, it’s a great, great experience. I made a lot of friends and had great experiences. Did I see bad stuff? Absolutely. But I would do it over again in a heartbeat.”

Photos Courtesy of Gary Miller