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Local students inspired by service members’ visits

U.S. Navy Lt. Theresa Thao describes her career Thursday to students at St. Mary of Assumption School in Santa Maria. The school celebrated Veterans Day all week by having speakers from the different branches of military come in each day.

Len Wood/Staff

The St. Mary of Assumption School blacktop erupted in applause Thursday morning after a teacher merely mentioned the U.S. Navy.

“I think that’s my cue,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Theresa Thao, who strode in her dress blues to the center of the sea of navy-uniformed students, already lined up for the daily flag salute and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Does anybody have any idea what the Navy does for us?” Thao began.

Students raised their hands or yelled out a variety of answers, all of which included ships.

“The primary focus of the Navy is to drive ships,” Thao said. “That’s our bread and butter. (But) we have several career fields.”

St. Mary students learned all about the armed services this week, as speakers from the Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy visited each day to talk about their jobs leading up to Veterans Day today.

Sanchez Elementary and Orcutt Academy K-8 charter school in Casmalia also commemorated Veterans Day on Thursday, since schools are closed for the federal holiday today.  

Thao, who is stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, explained how she went to the U.S. Naval Academy straight out of high school in Kansas City, Mo., and then traveled on ships around the world, including stays in Japan, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Mexico and more.

After six years in the military, 27-year-old Thao is still using her mechanical-engineering degree and driving ships for a living.

“I wanted to sail the world” and serve the country, she said when a student asked how she chose her career. “If you want to see the world, the Navy is a good way to do it.”

Thao also informed students that she has 28 different uniforms, that the first ship she was on had between three and eight total women onboard, and that she has always had her “sea legs” because she doesn’t get motion sickness.

“How many Navy Seals are there?” asked third-grader Carlo LaPoiga, who was interested in joining the group before he found out there are between 100 and 300 total Navy Seals.

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“I really like to swim,” Carlo added after Thao spoke. “The Navy Seals inspire me.”

Eighth-graders Jasmine Arechiga and Caitlyn Martinez both especially appreciated hearing what a servicewoman had to say.

“It was different because it was from a girl’s perspective,” Caitlyn said. “Girls can be as tough as (boys) are.”

Every speaker this week wanted to serve our country, said Jasmine, who might join a branch of the military herself one day.

“I think everyone should try and serve the country,” she said.