Brownstown staff members proud of military service



They have different reasons for enlisting in the military, and they served various roles.

One trait they share, however, is today, they are employed by Brownstown Central Community School Corp.

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In honor of Veterans Day, Brownstown Central Middle School paid tribute to three staff members who served their country — library assistant Erin Gommel, corporation director of technology Will Hubbard and director of bands Richard Branaman.

At Brownstown Central High School, teacher Brandon Tormoehlen told students why he joined the Indiana National Guard a year ago, and teacher Dan Schwartz shared how he benefited from his 23 years in the military.

Gommel said she was inspired by her family’s tradition of service.

“I grew up hearing stories of my grandfather’s time in the Navy during World War II,” she said. “His ship participated in the landings at Iwo Jima and Kwajalein, and he was my hero. My family instilled a deep love for our country and a desire to do my patriotic duty.”

She served from 1998 to 2010 with the Marines and Army and was deployed to Iraq with the 892nd Transportation Company.

“One of the highlights of my time in the military was participating in Iraq’s first election during my deployment there,” she said. “However, my favorite thing was always the amazing people I met in the military. It was exciting to face various challenges with them.”

She’s now humbled knowing she served the country.

“It was a great honor to serve and hopefully give back a little to a nation that has given me so much,” Gommel said. “I’m very thankful for the freedom we have.”

She said she’s glad students have an opportunity to learn more about the nation and the men and women who have served it.

“I think it’s important because it teaches us the value and cost of the liberties and freedoms we have. There have been real sacrifices made by our veterans,” she said. “I also hope that it inspires future generations to serve in our armed forces.”

Hubbard also was influenced by family to join the military. His parents and a grandfather served.

“In high school, I knew I wanted to further my education and go to college along with enlisting in the military,” he said. “Six months after 9/11, I decided to enlist in the Army National Guard.”

He served for eight years, including a tour in Iraq in 2008. A highlight there was receiving the Army Achievement Medal.

“During a combat logistic patrol, my vigilance and attention to detail resulted in me finding an improvised explosive device, which resulted in the safe passage of our entire convoy,” Hubbard said. “I couldn’t be more honored or proud to have served my country.”

Branaman was a member of the 38th Infantry Division Band of the Indiana National Guard.

“I originally signed up because they were offering a great tuition assistance program to pay for college,” he said. “I had been selected for IBA’s All-State Honor Band, and because of this, the 38th Infantry Division Band of the Indiana National Guard sent me a letter inviting me to check out the band. I did, and I knew I had to be a part of that band.”

He wound up playing for two U.S. presidents, the Slovakian president and countless other political figures and met many celebrities and heroes.

He performed during military ceremonies and Veterans Day, Independence Day and Memorial Day celebrations and marched in parades.

He was a part of the marching band, concert band, stage band, country band and on occasion a brass quintet. He played tuba, trombone and guitar, sang, narrated and conducted the ensemble.

One highlight was while marching behind the color guard during a parade in Linton, he noticed a group of veterans wearing their Veterans of Foreign Wars patches and hats identifying their branch of service.

At the end of the group, there were a handful of men in wheelchairs.

“I witnessed these men muster every ounce of their strength to stand for their flag except for one who physically could not stand,” Branaman said. “He reached up and removed his hat from his head, placed it across his heart, dropped his head and I saw a tear run down his cheek. I have never forgotten that image.”

That’s an example of how humbling it was for him to serve in the military as a musician.

“I am honored to have served my country and humbled by the sacrifices that others had made on our behalf,” said Branaman, who retired from military service in 2005 with the rank of sergeant.

Tormoehlen told the high school students gathered in the auditorium that when he was their age, he “never in a million years” thought he would join the military.

“When I was 17, 18, I had one thing on my mind, and that was I was going to play ball in college,” he said. “That’s the only thing I ever really thought about.”

He fulfilled that dream and later married and started a family.

He reached a point when he considered joining the military, so he enlisted Sept. 1, 2017.

“The benefits they provide as far as health insurance and paying off student loans and paying for my master’s, all of those things made sense for my wife and our family,” Tormoehlen said.

At the beginning of the school year, he took some time off to go to basic training.

“The skills that you learn are pretty impressive,” Tormoehlen told the students. “I would encourage any of you that are interested, don’t hesitate to come and ask me questions. I’ll tell you the good and bad. Some of it was hard. Some of it was pretty easy.”

Another benefit of joining is the people you meet from all over the country and world, he said.

“The stories and reasons that they join are pretty cool,” he said. “Some of the guys that I went to basic with this summer, their life was going down the wrong path, and they decided to change it. When you go through training with those guys and you realize they made that choice to better themselves, you have a lot of respect for people like that.”

Schwartz said he enlisted in 1983 because he was married and had a couple of kids and needed money.

After taking a test and receiving a physical, he talked his wife, Deb, into enlisting, too.

By 1989, he was commissioned as an officer. He later spent two and a half years in active duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

His career also took him to South Carolina, Texas, New Mexico, New York and Washington, D.C.

“I got lifelong friendships and so many friends from the state of Indiana I still keep in contact with,” Schwartz said.

He also said he gained leadership and organizational skills and was able to feel a sense of pride having served his country.

“I got the opportunity to protect the greatest country in the world — the United States of America,” he said before thanking the students for listening and walking off of the stage to a big round of applause.

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