NHS alumni share experiences with current students

Cary Ashby • Nov 12, 2019 at 10:52 AM

Kaleb Cashen said he looks back on his time in the U.S. Army fondly.

The 2014 Norwalk High School graduate was a sergeant by the time he spent a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. Cashen, a self-described “combat veteran,” said he is grateful and thankful for being able to bring all the soldiers under his command home alive and safe.

“I was able to cope with my time over there pretty well,” he added, but noted others weren’t so lucky.

Born and raised in Norwalk, Cashen said he is grateful he could assist other veterans process their traumatic deployment experiences. 

Cashen and another alumnus, Craig Johnson, were the two speakers during the annual Veterans Day program Monday at the Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center.

After graduating from NHS in 2016, Johnson went into the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. 

“I have three more years,” said the 2015 homecoming king who played football and wrestled at NHS and also performed with the Blue Pride marching band.

Members of the orchestra opened the school assembly Monday by playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Two students held banners with the logos for each branch of the military while Kaleb Bauman read the corresponding veterans’ names, their years of service and what relatives they have currently at NHS.

Elyse Balduff, Carly Belton, Thomas Gfell and Zach Thrash were selected to go on the annual Huron County Honor Trip in October. The NHS and Monroeville High School students accompanied and assisted veterans during the three-day trip to Washington, where they visited eight memorials, the Washington Monument, Smithsonian National Museum of World History and Arlington Cemetery. The students said the experience taught them to have even more respect and appreciation for veterans.

Nick Lee, the NHS Teen Leadership Corps (TLC) teacher, introduced Cashen. Lee said while the trip was for veterans, he hoped it was obvious the students also “got a lot out of it.”

The TLC students suggested this year’s program feature more recent veterans than in years past. Lee said “they sometimes get lost in the shuffle” and he was especially pleased since his search gave him an excuse to contact recent graduates.

Cashen was a member of the 2013-’14 Truckers basketball team that won the Div. II state championship. Lee said for the current students who were in elementary and middle school at the time, the players could have been perceived as heroes.

“As a coach, they were heroes for me too,” added Lee, an assistant under head coach Steve Gray in 2014 who became choked up momentarily.

Cashen went into basic training at the end of July 2014, just a few months after graduating from NHS. While the mental aspect was challenging, he said physically, he had been “conditioned well by Mr. Lee and Mr. Gray.”

“They ran us up and down the court pretty good,” added Cashen, who earned his sergeant’s stripes in less than three years with the Army.

After he graduated from airborne school, he was assigned to the prestigious 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, Md. Cashen said the first time he jumped out of a plane, his training took over and he landed safely. He added his time at Fort Bragg “was where I truly learned to do my job” of being a combat engineer and after he learned he was being deployed to Afghanistan, all of his training became “real.”

“I was able to leave the Army with my head hung high knowing I served my country well and my country served me well,” Cashen said.

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