COVINGTON - Some students at Newton High School got a special visit Thursday afternoon.
U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., representative of Georgia's 8th District, spoke to a group of about 300 10th- and 11th-grade students in language arts and social studies classes in the school's Porter Auditorium.
Though Marshall often visits areas of his district, he's normally known to visit school boards and other governing bodies - this is his first time talking to such a large group of students in the Newton County School System.
He made the decision to meet with students after his son Robert, a high school senior, surprised him about three weeks ago while they were on a run.
"We were taking a break, and out of the blue, he said, 'Hey, dad. I'm thinking about joining the Army.' I felt like a fool," said Marshall, a Vietnam vet and son of a military father and grandfather. "I've never really talked to him about it. I didn't want to push him into the military, but I probably should have talked to him about it."
Marshall gave a rundown of his own career highlights - mechanic, high school teacher, cook, law professor, lawyer and now a politician.
"I found lots of different jobs interesting. ... I think out of all of the things I've done, the one I value the most is the time I spent in the military," said Marshall, who left Princeton in 1968 to serve in Vietnam for 10 months. "I made plenty of mistakes, and I'd take back things I did. ... But I think I did the right thing."
He spoke to students about his son's worries - too much paperwork as an officer, whether he should join ROTC and spending too much time in the military - and encouraged them to think about the same service to their country.
"And guess what? Uncle Sam will pay for your college, too," he said. During his time in the service, "lots of people frowned on soldiers. Now, soldiers are admired, and I appreciate that from the population."
Marshall said those students who aren't interested in joining a branch of the military have plenty of other opportunities to provide service to their country - foreign services, AmeriCorps, police officer, teacher.
He also encouraged the students to continue their education because of the national push being put on employers to hire educated workers.
"The more education you have, the more you'll be able to adapt, and the better you've done in school, the more opportunities you'll have, and it will be better for the country," he said.
School Principal Roderick Sams said it was important for Marshall to speak to students about service.
"Anytime you talk about service, giving back, patriotism and honors, it's always a message that students today don't hear enough," Sams said. "To have someone who represents us ... with his level of service ... gives an opportunity to our students to listen and hear it. Whether or not that resonates, we'll see down the road, but I was very excited when he called us and wanted to speak to our students."
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.