Veterans share experiences, advice with South Portland students

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Eighth-grade students at Memorial Middle School learned about life in the military during “Take a Veteran to School Day” on Nov. 6.

The importance of recognizing veterans and Veterans Day was also discussed during the program, sponsored by Spectrum and the History Channel, and organized by Diane Baker, a math and language arts teacher.

The eighth-graders were also scheduled to visit the Maine Military Museum on Peary Terrace this week.

Veterans who spoke at the school were state Rep. Kevin Battle, I- South Portland, who is retired from the U.S. Coast Guard; local business owner Chris Tyll, a former U.S. Navy SEAL; Sgt. John Butt, a U.S. Air Force veteran; David Rossignol, a former Navy electronics technician, and Shaun Quinn, who worked in Army counterintelligence.

Battle spent more than five years serving active duty before switching to the reserves. He is a former city firefighter and worked as a police officer for 27 years. He is currently harbor master in Portland.

“You can be whatever you want to be … make up your mind and go for it,” Battle told the students. “Whatever you want to do, put your mind to it.  Don’t ever let someone tell you, you can’t do it.”

Tyll, who served in the Navy for 14 years and with the SEALS for eight years, spoke about his tours in Iraq.

“The world is bad, there are bad people, but you can do better,” Tyll said. “You can win.”

The owner of Easy Day on Broadway also gave the students advice he said he learned from the military to be successful in life: “Never quit … quitters never win … making a change or decision for a different path is fine … only you know when you quit.”

He told the students setting small goals can lead to a big goal, and “You won’t accomplish anything in life without a team around you.”

Butt served from 1984-1990 as an aerospace ground equipment technician. He is from a military family; his father and brother spent their entire careers in the military.

Butt was born in Florida, but as a child lived in several countries, including England and Japan. He graduated from high school in Italy and began his career at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, which later closed.

“My father was a huge inspiration to me … set a high standard for me,” said Butt, who also spoke about how all the branches of the military work together.

“We give each other a hard time in the ranks, but we all support each other and stand up for our brothers and sisters,” he said.

Quinn served from 1988-1994 as a counterintelligence agent. He did several tours in the Republic of Korea and said serving in the military is “not like the movies,” although he was in situations that were very dangerous and at times things “get very interesting.”

He told the students as a child he wanted to get out of Maine, but his overseas duty really made him appreciate where he came from.

Rossignol served from 1985-1993. He said he has visited many historic places and learned a lot about teamwork by being in the military. He went on to serve in the White House Communications Agency, which provides voice, data, and audiovisual communications to support the president, vice president, first lady and Secret Service.

Rossignol said the military gave him opportunities to meet several presidents and visit many historical places.

“I never thought my military experience would lead me to where it has,” he said.

Rossignol also noted the most basic role of the military is to protect the country.

“It puts men and women in harm’s way,” he said. “Veterans Day is about recognizing them and thanking them for their effort.”

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Shaun Quinn, who worked in Army counterintelligence, talks about his military career with eighth-grade students at Memorial Middle School in South Portland during “Take a Veteran to School Day” on Nov. 6.