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First lady touts 'Troops to Teachers' program

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- The birthplace of aviation became a launching pad for new career possibilities Oct. 16 as first lady Laura Bush spoke here about the Defense Department's Troops to Teachers program.

Bush recognized educators and the potential roles departing military members can play in education during a rally attended by nearly 1,300 people.

As a former teacher, Bush's enthusiasm for the program was evident.

"Our children are the future," she said. "Ensuring that they have the best education possible and the chance to realize their dreams is our greatest obligation. As soldiers, you pledged yourself to duty, honor and country -- and your service will never be forgotten.

"Today, I ask you to pledge yourselves to our children, the future of this country. I ask our retiring men and women to answer a new call, the call to teach."

Troops to Teachers is a program that assists select people who want to begin a career in public education upon departing the military. It began in 1994, and nearly 4,000 veterans have been hired into the nation's schools since.

Last January, the program was authorized to continue for five more years through the No Child Left Behind Act. An estimated 2 million new teachers will be needed in the next decade.

Three teachers, Eusebio Bretado Jr. of El Paso, Texas; William Byrd of Madison, Ala.; and Michael Glaze of Beaufort, S.C.; are successful examples of Troops to Teachers. Each received "Excellence in Teaching" awards at the rally.

Two Dayton school teachers, Greg Powell and Melvin Early, are Air Force retirees who left Wright-Patterson and went into Troops to Teachers. They are the types of role models being sought for the program, said Bush.

"And Wright-Patterson has no shortage of them," she said. "Members of the military have always been tremendous role models -- you possess the greatest in character, commitment and resolve. And today, our children need those qualities more than ever."

Bush said Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was an easy choice for the presentation.

"We really wanted to be here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for this event," she said. "I visit a lot of bases around the world, the San Diego Naval Yard, Aviano [Air Base], Italy, and Kosovo to talk to troops about when they retire from the military to continue to serve their country as teachers. Today we heard some really wonderful stories about teachers in the Ohio area. We really picked Ohio today because of Wright-Patt."

Teaching may not be for everyone, Bush said. It can be trying and takes patience. Those who think it is about having summers and holidays off could be surprised, she said.

"I think really good teachers are people who know that they really want to help people," Bush said. "And if you know you want to help people and work well with people, that's what teaching's all about. And I think you can probably become a pretty good teacher."

Bush is heavily involved in promoting several educational programs as well as reading programs in the country. She taught second, third and fourth grades in Texas, and earned a graduate degree in library science and worked as a school librarian.

Bush said she missed the work. She also admitted it was not always easy, but added there were not many professions as rewarding as teaching when you succeed.

"Those years were very satisfying," she said. "Teaching might be very difficult, but there's also never a boring moment when you have 20 little kids around you all the time."

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