Vets celebrate 11/11 at North

Veterans celebrate their service and the United States Nov. 11, 2019.

Max Yanacek, Graphics and Entertainment Editor

This year’s Veterans Day program highlighted Army veteran and Oshkosh North High School Social Studies teacher Mr. Tim O’Brien, who served in the Army Reserve for 12 years.

Even today, the lessons O’Brien learned while in the Army—particularity the Army Values of  loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage—have a huge effect on his life.

“The Army has been awesome for me and my classroom,” said O’Brien. “I think the army values that I learned keep me consistent on getting work done . . . I became a better student—a better person just because of the things that I learned.”

O’Brien’s classroom is especially influenced by Army Values.

“Selfless service [has affected my life] more than anything else,” said O’Brien. “When I look at teaching, I take what my teachers ahead of me had to offer, and then I want to do as good if not an even a better job at trying to push that onto my students that I have now.”

O’Brien shared his story from enlisting in the Army on April 20, 2004, to how his time serving has affected his life today.

“It was something that kind of came out of the blue,” said O’Brien. “I started to explore and from the first day I found ‘how does this even work?’ to the day I signed up was probably less than two weeks . . . I said,  ‘You know what, why does it always have to be somebody else?’”

Entering the Army, O’Brien was told that his first choices for jobs were taken. Although he scored near perfectly on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery: a test that determines what jobs you qualify for) O’Brien decided he wanted to use his culinary skills and applied to be a cook—one of the three jobs available to those who barely passed. After training, However, O’Brien found that cooks were not required while in Afghanistan and was reclassified as an ammunition specialist.

“I’m a really good cook, and I wish that I would have been able to use my skills because I liked my job,” said O’Brien. “It would have been different to see what it would have been like, but none of those opportunities would have come about had I not [been reclassed]. I just took full advantage of everything that came my way, and I loved it.”

As an ammunition specialist, O’Brien coordinated ammunition pickup and distribution for the eastern half of Afghanistan. Although the job got monotonous at times, O’Brien was often times able to fly to other bases, supply points, and outposts for ammunition deliveries.

“It was like working in an enormous outdoor warehouse,” said O’Brien. “except all our products could explode.”

O’Brien’s new knowledge about his position also eventually allowed him to help with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) blows, in which he assisted in disposing of (blowing up) damaged, old, or found ammunition, much of which was left by the Russian Army in 1989.

“It is not easy to get on those missions because they are incredibly dangerous,” said O’Brien. “The professional Explosive Ordnance Disposal people—not me—understand that if something goes wrong, a lot of bad happens really quick, so when they get help on missions like this they want to get help from people that have ammunition experience or at least that seem really trustworthy.”

Although he was not able to cook as he had initially hoped, O’Brien was grateful for his experiences working as an ammunition specialist as well as for the friends he met in the job.

“It was a neat experience that I would never turn down,” said O’Brien.

Although he wanted to stay longer, O’Brien returned home to the U.S. and almost immediately started teaching.

“I came home from deployment, and I went back to the classroom four days later,” said O’Brien. “Maybe that wasn’t the smartest move, but that was what I needed.”

The Army Values are not the only things that have carried over into O’Brien’s classroom. Traveling overseas  has allowed O’Brien to better relate with his students, particularly in a school as culturally diverse as Oshkosh North.

“I think that having that global perspective when you teach… and when you get to go somewhere… it is not just a distant place, so to, fortunately, be here at North where these kids have such diverse backgrounds… that’s a tie that’s just invaluable, and it helps in your teaching and how you get to meet and know students.”

Despite not being able to cook while overseas, O’Brien still enjoys bringing his love of cooking to his classroom. As a geography teacher, he is able to share foods from all over the world with his students.

O’Brien’s Army experiences have given him indescribable benefits through comradery and a sense of belonging but also through lessons in discipline and leadership. The advantages of joining the Army lead O’Brien to recommend the military to any students who are interested.

“But go into it with an open mind and understand that it is tough,” said O’Brien. “They are going to yell at you, that’s normal. They’re not doing this to be mean; they are doing this to build you up, and all of the lessons that you learn are lessons that you will keep for the rest of your life. There is very little in life that can compare to the benefits that you get from being in the military, not just GI bill benefits, the life lessons side of it. There is almost nothing that can compare… The best things that we do in life are hard, not easy; because if they’re easy anybody can do it.”