Standing over six-feet tall in his U.S. Army dress blues, two-star Major General Leslie C. Smith exudes a presence that demands respect.
However, when the Frederick Douglass High School graduate told the crowd of JROTC cadets and other students that he grew up in a neighborhood around the corner from the school, a place they all know well, the level of respect they had for him went through the roof.
Major Gen. Smith’s visit was just one of a number of special programs and initiatives that took place in Atlanta Public School buildings throughout the district this week in honor of Veteran’s Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11.
“I wanted them to know that they have to opportunity to succeed just like everybody else,” Major Gen. Smith said. He is a member of the graduating class of 1981 at Douglass and paid a visit to his alma mater and to Maynard Jackson High School on Thursday. “I wanted them to know that they should set their goals high because they have a lot of potential, and they should not be afraid to ask for help. There are a lot of people – their principal, their teachers, their JROTC commander, alums like me – a lot of people who care about them and who are proud of them.”
Major Gen. Smith’s school visits culminated a busy week of activities surrounding Veteran’s Day. All week, schools and students displayed their gratitude and respect for the nation’s veterans and its active military service men and women.
To start the week, students at Morris Brandon Elementary School – with help from community partners Healthy Green Schools and West Paces Ferry Dentistry – shipped more than 1,000 pounds of candy they collected on Halloween to military service men and women stationed overseas to show their gratitude. Additionally, the boxes of candy the students sent included letters of encouragement from all 1,050 Morris Brandon students.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, cadets in the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy JROTC helped create 10,000 care packages for a USO initiative called “Operation Care Package,” which took place on the campus of The Coca-Cola Company.
“It feels really good to give back to people who have done so much for us,” said CSK Cadet Sade Suggs, a junior who plans to attend college on an ROTC scholarship and pursue a career in medicine. Seven of her eight sisters serve or have served in the military. “Our veterans deserve this.”
Also on Wednesday, the Mays JROTC drill team performed in the Atlanta Chapter Tuskegee Airmen Second Annual Veterans Day program at the Masonic Lodge in Riverdale.
“I knew about the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Mays Lieutenant Colonel Cadet Emmanuel Patterson, a senior who would like to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. “I know that they are the main reason that the military was desegregated and that they were the greatest fighting group in the history of our military. If it were not for their time, energy and sacrifice, none of us would be where we are today.”