In honor of Veterans Day on November 11, we’d like to highlight the members of our Kingsley Area Schools staff who have served our nation.
Jason Blyth, First Grade Teacher
Branch: Navy and Coast Guard
Stationed in: Several places including Pensacola, FL, San Diego, CA, and Traverse City
Job: Aviation instructor, helicopter pilot
Years in the service: 1996-2017
Training: Received a Navy ROTC scholarship through Northwestern University
Mr. Blyth grew up as a Navy brat and moved across the world with his family.
"We lived in San Diego, Bremerton, Washington; New Jersey, Spain. It’s always been a big part of my life, and I enjoyed the military brat life," said Mr. Blyth.
Mr. Blyth joined the Navy and earned a scholarship through the Navy ROTC program at Northwestern University.
“I ended up going down to Pensacola, Florida after graduating and I became a helicopter pilot," said Mr. Blyth. "I was in the Navy for 10 years, touring out in San Diego with submarine hunters. I went back to Pensacola as a flight instructor, and from there switched over to the Coast Guard where I joined a program called direct commission aviator."
After joining the Coast Guard, he worked in Kodiak, Alaska, and Oregon, and in 2011 was stationed in Traverse City.
"Traverse City is such a gem for the Coast Guard. It's such a beautiful place to live and it's a great place to work and I had the good fortune to be stationed here for six years, which is unusual because usually four years is a tour," said Mr. Blyth.
In 2017, Mr. Blyth decided to retire from the Coast Guard and set down roots in Northern Michigan with his wife and two kids. He went back to school via the CMU cohort program at NMC to become a teacher. He joined Kingsley Elementary School in 2022.
Now, instead of piloting a helicopter, he flies through his classroom diffusing problems and keeping his class on course. He credits the military with helping him to learn time management and problem-solving skills.
“Growing up in a Navy family, we've always been very country-forward and service-minded. Being in the military was a chance to serve this country in that way. I got to do a lot of unique things but it was for the purpose of defending our country. Even now teaching, I still look at it as a way to serve the country in the community by, hopefully, positively influencing the next generation,” he said.
Angelique Estelle, KHS Librarian
Branch: Army National Guard
Stationed in: Camp Grayling
1071st Maintenance Battalion
Years in the service: 2003-2004
Training: Attended boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and received advanced individual training at Fort Lee in Virginia.
After finishing advanced individual training (AIT) Mrs. Estelle found out she was pregnant. The Army gave her a choice: take an honorable medical discharge or sign on for inactive duty that would require her to leave if her unit was deployed overseas.
She had to sign off on the paperwork prior to delivery. She chose an honorable medical discharge. She later found out that her unit was deployed to the Middle East for 18 months just a few months after she gave birth to her daughter, Cylie.
“A Veteran is a person who wrote a blank check payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including one's life. I love being able to support my fellow veterans, brothers and sisters in arms, because it is something bigger than me, being able to say, ‘yeah, you know, I signed up to do this knowing full well that I could have gone to war,’" said Angelique.
Her daughter, Cylie, is now following in her mom’s footsteps and has entered the service.
“I'm so proud that my daughter is serving and she chose that very much on her own. Of course, I was rooting for the Army, but she chose the Marine Corps. There’s a little mini rivalry between the branches, but I'm proud of her regardless of which branch she went in," she said.
Cylie recently graduated Boot Camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and was one of the last recruits in the fourth battalion Oscar company before it was decommissioned. Cylie now works in aviation electronics.
“We are a military family. My father and stepfather, several of my uncles, and two of my brothers have served. Being in the Military is awesome. It's something bigger than you. "It's humbling to be a part of something that big and that there's so much pride brought with it.”
Christopher Gaddy, Eighth Grade Teacher
Stationed in: Several places in the US and South Korea
Job: Forward observer for the field artillery
Years in the service: 1999-2003
Mr. Gaddy served stateside for several years before going to South Korea for his final year of service.
"The camaraderie was great with the other people who went over there. It was a totally positive experience getting the chance to experience another culture," said Mr. Gaddy. "I was a long way from home and I was thankful to come back."
While he was in the Army, he ended up in a training role which inspired him to pursue a career in education. The Michigan native returned from service and attended Northern Michigan University to get his teaching degree. He taught in Maryland for several years before returning to the mitten last year.
"I'm happy to have served and I'm thankful for those who are currently serving now. It was like I was a link in the chain of service. I was happy to have done my part, and I know that that continues now. That legacy continues and I'm happy to have been a part of it."
Vince Markiewicz, Third Grade Teacher
Stationed in: Japan and the greater Pacific
Job: Gunner's mate, torpedoes team, small arms instructor, security's armor, 50 caliber mountain captain
Years in the service: 2007-2011
"The joke I always tell people is that I used to deal with small arms as an instructor, and now I'm instructing small arms,"
"I always knew I wanted to be a teacher but the main reason I joined the military was because my dad was in the military. My grandpa was in the military. My brother was in the Marines. I always felt like I needed to serve and I knew I wanted to teach and it'd be a great way to get outside of the classroom."
Mr. Markiewicz says he learned how to work with others in the service.
"What I did in the Navy is I dealt with instructing adults. Instructing children is kind of easier they're not set in their ways. Kids are still moldable, which is really nice."
He left the service in 2011 to start a family with his wife.
"I'm really glad that I served. I thought it was a great gig. It is fulfilling for me to know that I've done something for my country and that I've been able to give some years to help make our country what it is. I got to see a lot of new places and experience a lot of things I wouldn't have otherwise. I saw lots of countries and got some skills I might not have had in any other aspect."
Lesli and Tony Taylor
Lesli Taylor - Math Interventionist and Bus Driver
Stationed in: Kentucky, Iraq
Job: Aviation operations specialist
Years in the service: Went to basic training in 2005
Tony Taylor - Bus Driver
Stationed in: Kentucky, Kansas, Iraq, Afghanistan, West Virginia, South Korea, Alabama, Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, Ukraine, and more
Job: Blackhawk Pilot and colonel
Years in the service: 1989-2018
Shortly after high school, Lesli Taylor joined the Army as an aviation operations specialist. She met her husband Tony after moving to Tennessee to be near her sister. Her sister was his secretary at the time, and Tony was in charge of a recruiting battalion in Clarksville, TN at Fort Campbell.
While they were both in the service, they were often working in separate places and were deployed overseas at different points. Lesli left the service in 2007. Over the years, the Taylors moved to several states and countries including Alabama, Kansas, West Virginia, South Korea, Bosnia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Germany, and more.
Their latest assignment? Working in Kingsley Area Schools to fulfill a community need.
"To us, being a veteran just means being selfless and serving our country. It's kind of why Tony and I ended up being a bus driver and substitute teacher [at KAS], the community needed somebody so we stepped up," said Lesli Taylor.
"I answered the call for whatever action our country needed us to perform. I was part of a bigger team," said Tony Taylor.
Special Shoutout: Nancy Olenchek, high school science teacher, Army Veteran; and bus driver Mike Forro who is also a veteran.
Thank you, Kingsley Veterans for your service to our country and our school district!