Wednesday, November 20, 2019

We Don't Need a Superhero to Feed Our Kids

We Don't Need a Superhero to Feed Our Kids

by Ted Miller
(originally published December 2019 in Tumbleweird)

No child should go hungry. And yet in the wealthiest nation in the world, six million children don’t know where their next meal will come from (source: 

Childhood hunger is a perennial problem. The National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 were enacted to help those in need, but 1 in 5 children today still go hungry.

Poverty and homelessness are a problem right here in our community. An unofficial survey recently noted that there are over 600 homeless children in the Tri-Cities. Many more live in poverty. Too many spend too many nights with empty stomachs.

We as a nation believe equal access to education is a fundamental American value, so public education is provided to all regardless of an ability to pay. We believe that an educated society is a better society, that education helps lift people up, that educated citizens make a better democracy. But when a child in school is hungry, they don’t really have an equal ability to learn. 

Last month, Kennewick City Council member and business owner Steve Lee paid off all student lunch debt for Kennewick and Columbia School Districts. Following a Facebook post and local media coverage, Richland City Council member Phil Lemley made a donation toward the lunch debt in the Richland School District. That inspired a group of Richland friends to band together to eliminate the debt for those most in need. Richland School Board candidate Jay Clough recently donated the balance of his campaign funds toward student lunch debt. The generosity is commendable and well appreciated.

In following this story locally, I discovered how much misinformation there is about student nutrition programs. I suppose I thought all kids in need qualified for free or reduced meals and that no child in our town ever had to go hungry, but I really didn’t know much about this issue at all.

I sat down with Richland School District Nutrition Services Director Dawn Trumbull and staff member Julie Soderquist to find out more. Here are a few things I learned:

-       The school nutrition program is funded separately from operating levies and other funds for education services
-       Federal and state funds provide some assistance through the free and reduced meal programs, other students have to pay for the meals they eat 
-       Of the 14,000 students in the Richland School District, 40% of them are in the free or reduced program
-       Six schools provide breakfast and lunch to all students because of the high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches; at other schools, students must qualify on an individual basis
-       There are still many students who are unable to pay for reasons over which they have no control
-       No student is turned away because of a lack of ability to pay, but their account goes into debt
-       Washington State has a “no lunch shaming” policy, meaning students who can’t pay or whose accounts are in debt are not identified and receive the same meal as all other students
-       There is an ongoing total student lunch debt that is thousands of dollars 

So, what happens when a child’s account is in arrears and they need a lunch? 

Sometimes a teacher or principal will pay out of their own pocket. In Richland, we also have a community supported Superhero Lunch Fund to help out. 

Several years ago, local restaurant Hop Jacks (now Hops and Drops) wanted to donate a portion of their kid’s meals to school lunch programs. Combining that with other donations that periodically came in, the district created the Superhero Lunch Fund. Staff members are able to use Superhero funds to ensure every child receives a meal when they ask for it. In cases where the district determines the family is having difficulty and is unable to pay, the Superhero fund can be used to ease or eliminate that debt.

The recent donations inspired by Steve Lee and Phil Lemley were added to the Superhero fund. In addition to community members who have stepped up to help, other local businesses are pitching in. Tumbleweeds restaurant in Richland donates half of the sale of their new “cafeteria burrito” to the Superhero fund. Tommy’s Tap House and Bistro is now considering a program to help.

It is wonderful to see the community step up. But asking the community to fill in the need is only a temporary solution. 

I believe that every student should start and end the school day without being hungry. The federal school lunch programs enacted in 1946 and expanded in 1966 should again be expanded to cover all students. Meals should be part of the cost of education just like books, computers, classrooms, and qualified teachers. 

Last month, the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2019 was introduced in Congress (H. R. 4684 and S.2609). Critics say the cost is too expensive. But what is the cost to our children and our future when too many children attend school on an empty stomach?

We don’t need a superhero to solve the problem of childhood hunger, we just need to care enough to feed our children.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Veterans Day Speech 2019 - Richland High School

Veterans Day Speech 2019

Ted Miller – given to Richland High School students November 8, 2019

Ted Miller - Veteran Bio

Captain Ted Miller is a retired Navy veteran.  After attending high school in Florida, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, earning a bachelor of science degree in physics along with his military studies.  He served for thirty years as a naval submarine officer, both on active duty and in the reserves.  He grew up in a Navy family and has traveled with the military around the world.  He lives with his family in Richland. 

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Thank you Mr. Fryhling and Ms. Schoepflin for inviting me here today. It is an honor and a privilege to speak to you.

Monday is Veterans Day.  What does that mean to you?  A day off from school?  A chance to sleep in?  Hanging out with your friends?  Spend time with your family?  Catch up on your homework?

Why do we even have this holiday? 

A veteran is someone who has served in the military. 

How many of you have family members in the military?  A brother, sister, mother or father?  Please raise your hand. 

Remember to thank them.

Many veterans are this nation’s unsung heroes.  Their families and friends may have been the only ones who knew their names, who knew the sacrifices they made to serve our country.  Our veterans have missed the births of their children, wedding anniversaries and graduations.  They have spent holidays in soggy rice paddies in Vietnam, amid the stinging sands of the Iraqi desert, and in the cold and rugged mountains of Eastern Europe. 

And after they return home, too many of our veterans suffer from homelessness, physical disabilities, PTSD, and just getting their life back after serving in the military.

Abraham Lincoln made a promise to veterans in his second inaugural address in 1865 when he said that America would “…care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan.”  Today we must continue to take care of our veterans.

We celebrate Veterans Day on November 11th because that was the day, one-hundred-one years ago, that the cease fire took effect to end what was called the Great War.  At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.  Nine million civilians and eleven million combatants died in that war, one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.  It was thought to be the war that ended all wars.  November 11th was called Armistice Day because the word “armistice” means a truce, a mutual agreement to stop fighting. Many people thought we were entering an era of enduring peace.

But today we call that war World War One because it was NOT the last war.  Just two decades later we were engaged in another global conflict, World War II.  And the United States has been involved in at least ten conflicts since then, including the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Iraq War, and the current war in Afghanistan.  Do you know that we have been at war in Afghanistan since before any of you now in high school were born?

Why do we go to war?  It isn’t because we don’t want peace.  Every veteran, every member of the military would rather serve in a time of peace than a time of war.  I served for thirty years in the military, and I long for the day when the world is at peace.  I believe that we should always work hardest resolve our differences through diplomacy, negotiation, and international agreements. But sometimes those who want to do us harm leave us with no options other than military force. Sometimes, to defend this great country of ours, we must send our soldiers and sailors in to battle.  Even when we are not in a time of war, our military men and women are on the job, 24/7, maintaining their readiness, ever vigilant, at sea and in countries around the world, ensuring you and your families will continue to have the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

Some of our veterans have been injured or killed defending our freedom.  Let me give you a few examples of what that is like.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy for an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. It is not given lightly.  In fact there are only 70 living recipients, from the few remaining who served in World War 2 to the few awarded for the war in Afghanistan.  Let me tell you about two of them.

Navy corpsman Donald Ballard was serving with the 3rd Marine Division in Viet Nam.  As a corpsman, his job was to take care of the marines in his unit.  He was their medical guy. In 1968, he was rendering aid to several wounded marines under heavy enemy fire.  As he prepared to have the men medically evacuated, a grenade struck his helmet, bounced off, and landed beside him.

Without hesitation, Mr. Ballard bravely jumped on top of the grenade to shield his fellow Marines from the impending blast.

The grenade, however, did not explode.

Unharmed, Mr. Ballard threw the grenade back into the jungle, where it detonated.  After a moment of what must have been shock and disbelief, he continued his work treating the wounded, saving the lives of his buddies as their “doc”.

You may call it lucky that the grenade didn’t explode, but Mr. Ballard wasn’t thinking about that at the time.  His only thought was to save his fellow soldiers, a selfless act that likely could have cost him his life.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1970, and in the humility often expressed by Medal of Honor recipients, he said, “It’s harder to wear the medal than to earn it.”  What he means by that is that he didn’t do it for the medal or the recognition.  He doesn’t gloat or bask in the glory of his medal.  He did it to save others.  To protect them.  To protect us.

The youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor is Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter, USMC.  He just turned 30 last month.  And he was just a few years older than you are now when he was serving in Afghanistan.

On November 21, 2010, he and a fellow marine were manning a rooftop security position in a small village in Helmand Province, Afghanistan when the Taliban enemy initiated a daylight attack with hand grenades, one of which landed inside their sandbagged position.  Without hesitation, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Carpenter moved toward the grenade in an attempt to shield his fellow marine from the deadly white-hot blast.  When the grenade detonated, his body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him and saving the life of his fellow marine.

He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in June 2014.

Lance Corporal Carpenter’s injuries left him badly scarred, blind in one eye, and required over thirty surgeries.  But his can-do attitude and positive spirit have been an example for others.  After he left the military, he went back to school and graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2017.

What do these two stories have in common?  Well, they are both about a guy using his body to protect their fellow marine from a grenade blast.

In that split second decision, each one of them was prepared to give their life for their fellow soldier.  Not only that, they were prepared to give their lives as part of something bigger than themselves.  As part of their duty to defend their country.  They weren’t thinking about politics, or why they were at war.  They were only in the moment doing their duty, reacting to the situation, prepared to give everything.

Most veterans aren’t faced with such a life threatening decision, but they all have prepared themselves to do so. It is those little moments of sacrifice that our veterans give without thinking that make them so important to us as a nation.

Have you ever thought about what it means to be in the military?  We often think of all the military hardware.  The fast jets, the ships, submarines, tanks, helicopters, missiles and guns. But the hardware is just the tool. It’s the people who make the military. People who care for their country.

Every person in the military takes an oath.  On the day I was commissioned, I raised my right and said “I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

I swore allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.  Loyalty to an idea that embodies the ideals of individual freedom and democracy.  We don’t swear allegiance to a person, to a political party, or to a government individual.  No, every veteran swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. A document that is the foundation of our government. A government that is, as Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address, “of the people, by the people, and for the people” of the United States.  I am proud and honored to have served in defense of that constitution.

Less than ten percent of our population are veterans, and only about one percent are currently serving in the military.  In today’s military, they are all volunteers.  We owe those volunteers for the sacrifices they make day in and day out to ensure we can go to school and get an education, that we can openly and freely discuss and debate ideas and the best policies for our future, that we can feel protected and safe in our communities, that our government and our economy will be stable, no matter who is elected as our congressman, our senators, even our president.  Because our government is embodied in law and in the Constitution.

You hear the phrase “it’s a free country” thrown around casually.  But if you’ve traveled the world as I have, you know that that freedom isn’t free.  Father Denis O’Brien, who was a chaplain in the Marine Corps, said:

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.  It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.  It is the soldier, not the organizer, who gave us the freedom to demonstrate.  It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Those are your first amendment rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, and guaranteed by the veteran.

You know, for me, the Navy has always been a part of my life.  My mother and father were both in the Navy.  I was born in a Navy hospital, moved all over the world as I was growing up, went to the U.S. Naval Academy right out of high school, and then spent 14 years going to sea on submarines and 16 more years as a Navy reserve officer.  But I wanted to be a part of the Navy for something more.  A sense of patriotism.  I wanted to serve my country and help to make the world a better place.

Our country isn’t perfect, our leaders often make mistakes and I don’t always agree with the policies of those in power.  But I believe in what this country stands for and I believe that we are still the best hope for this world in which we live.  I believe that I have been able to play some small role in defending this country, doing my best to be prepared to defend it at all costs.  And I believe every minute has been worth it for my children and their children, and for all of my fellow citizens.  And so that every American will have a choice to make a difference in the way they see best.  And that YOU can make a choice to make a difference.  

That’s what’s so great about this country.  If you disagree or have a better idea, nothing is stopping you from making a difference.  Thank a veteran for being willing to lay down his or her life to protect that freedom for you.  Take your role as a citizen seriously.  And when you turn 18, register to vote and exercise that vote.  In the election last week less than a third of registered voters bothered to cast their ballots.  Less than a third!  How can you thank a veteran?  Use your voice to make this country a better place for all.  Get involved.  Keep this democracy alive and moving forward.  Make the world a better place, work towards world peace.  Work towards the time we won’t have to send our men and women to war.  But until that day, be thankful that those before you have sacrificed so much for you. 

I’ve often felt at a loss for how to respond when someone says “Thank you for your service” after learning that I’m a veteran.  I don’t feel special for doing what I thought was right. I don’t feel any more important that the firefighter or police officer who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. But I recently learned something from General Jim Mattis, a veteran from right here in Richland who recently served as the Secretary of Defense. When someone thanks him for his service, he says “You are worth it.”


So let me say to each and every one of you, on behalf of all veterans, you are worth it.

I hope I have given you a few things to think about.  It has truly been an honor for me to be called a veteran and to share with you what that means to me. Thank you.