Echo School’s annual Veterans Day parade may have been canceled, but the school kept its tradition of making sure students heard firsthand from a local veteran about what it’s like to serve in the armed forces.
This year’s keynote speaker — whose words were broadcast live during a virtual assembly — was Colleen R. Shaw Piercy, SSgt. E-5, United States Air Force, who served from 1995 to 2001. She talked about the “why” of her service to her country during her Wednesday, Nov. 11 speech.
It started when she was 17, and saw military service as a way to get out of “sandy, windy” Eastern Oregon, see the world and learn a trade.
“After I learned more about my job and I defended my country, my ‘why’ for joining the armed forces evolved and became much more. The ultimate goal at the end of the day was to support and defend our country. Being a part of the team to protect the rights of speech, press, petition, religion and assembly gave me satisfaction,” she said.
Piercy described the rigors of boot camp, where she and other recruits were “broken down” and rebuilt physically and mentally. To prepare them for a job where inattention to detail could result in lives lost, they learned to treat everything in their life with exactness.
“Every stray string on your clothes needed to be clipped off. Every T-shirt needed to be folded just right,” she said. “I remember taking tweezers and pulling each little edge of the T-shirt so it was all flush.”
After boot camp, Piercy worked in space system operations. At Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, she worked to launch and operate GPS satellites that the military uses in combat and planning, and the defense satellites used to monitor for missile launches and other threats.
Her next tour was in Australia, where she worked to monitor and analyze data from defense satellites.
“I was the front line of detection of missile launches, satellite launches and nuclear satellites,” she said. “I could detect what kind of missile, where it was originating from and where it was heading.”
Her next work, in Spain, was tracking “space junk” with a high-powered telescope so that military satellites could avoid a collision. Her final work for the Air Force, at Edwards Air Force Base in California, was classified.
After an honorable discharge, Piercy worked for Boeing to help launch the Sirius XM satellite before family health issues brought her back to Eastern Oregon. She started to work for Good Shepherd Medical Center as an admitting clerk and went back to school to become a radiology technologist.
Although she is no longer enlisted, Piercy said her time in the Air Force taught her attention to detail, courage, integrity and how to be a team player, and she said she has tried to instill those same values in her children.
“The military helped mold me into the person I am today,” she said.
After her remarks, Echo School District Superintendent Raymon Smith encouraged students and other community members watching the broadcast to thank veterans they see for their service. He described how his father, a Vietnam veteran, refused to seek needed help and support available to him as a veteran because of how badly he was treated after he returned from war.
“When he got home he was spit on, he was called names, he had things thrown at him, and he was treated as a second rate citizen for a political stance he didn’t have a say in, that he didn’t have a choice in. But he went because he was drafted; he went and served his country,” Smith said.
He said that’s why Echo hosts Veterans Day events each year, so that students can understand the sacrifices that veterans have made and appreciate their service.
“It is vitally important that we as a country remember to thank our service members, and remember to say we support them as people,” he said.