By Sgt.1st Class Charles Crail | 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Public Affairs Office
Editor’s note: The full names and identifications of those serving in the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) are withheld due to safety and security of the Soldiers and their Families.
COLORADO SPRINGS — Current and Retired Green Berets, from 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) have been working together this spring semester to bring history to life for local Colorado high school students, here.
Multiple news outlets have reported on the challenge that students, teachers and parents alike have faced keeping kids engaged while transitioning to learning in an online environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it is challenging,” said Mike Pritts, a history teacher at Fountain Fort Carson High School and retired command sergeant major from 10th Group.
Pritts said that history is often taught in a dry format of dates, facts and figures. A style most kids cannot relate to.
To combat this, he leverages technology to take students to places and times they may never get to experience, through video presentations followed by open ended forum discussions.
“They are really craving some kind of connection they are no longer getting in person,” Pritts said. “I’ve tried to keep this class very engaging and personal. And these kids really are getting into it.”
One method Pritts has used to shake up the weekly presentations is to lean on his old teammates and Soldiers from 10th Group.
“I decided to reach out to friends who have a specialized interest in history,” he said, “to keep the kids engaged as we do this online.”
One such recent presenter from 10th Group already had a quiet presence in the classroom, even if the students did not realize it through a 48-star American flag.
“Our team jumped into Normandy last year on drop zones that haven’t been used since the invasion,” said Joey, a current Green Beret with Group. “We brought back 48-star flags baptized at Omaha Beach, and Mike hung one in his classroom. So, he knows I’m his history guy.”
Joey’s full name, rank and position cannot be released for security reasons.
“His house is like a WWII museum,” Mike explains as his reason of asking Joey to help out. “He’s a huge history buff.”
“So, I asked him to pick a WWII topic he found interesting and asked him to present it,” Pritts said.
Joey picked the Malmedy massacre, a savage and tragic event which took place during the Battle of the Bulge in which German forces ruthlessly murdered U.S. prisoners of war.
“I wanted to bring humanity, not just combat,” Joey said to explain why he chose the topic.
In his presentation he covered more than the event itself, delving into the topics of ‘Just following orders’, and the mentality of junior draftees in the SS Divisions responsible for the killings.
“I’ve always had a love for what’s gone ahead of us,” Joey said. “I think as a professional, I’ve thought ‘this is important to learn’. As I got older, it became more important ‘not to forget’.”
Joey’s connection to history and World War II started early in his childhood.
“I grew up in an SF family. My father did 35 years (in the Army, 25 in Special Forces),” Joey said. “He was a guerrilla during (World War II) in eastern Europe. He used to throw Molotov cocktails on Nazi staff cars as a kid with his brother. He was meant to be a Green Beret.”
“I have a passion to retell these stories so they don’t get lost,” he said. “Some choose to preserve history; some choose to consume it. Others are just ambivalent.”
Another guest speaker virtually visiting Pritts’ class is fellow retired Green Beret from 10th Group, Joe Thomas. Thomas knows his subject not just from books, but from personal experience.
In 1993, a young Private 1st Class Thomas was part of Task Force Ranger and participated in the Battle of Mogadishu, more widely known from the movie, ‘Blackhawk Down’.
“It’s a privilege to relay my experience with Mike’s class,” Thomas said. “To be able to share my story of the men of Task Force Ranger with the students, honor the fallen and make sure their legacy carries on.”
In the Battle of Mogadishu, 18 members of TF Ranger were killed and 93 wounded. It was the most intense infantry engagement in an urban setting since Vietnam.
“I hope the class resonates with them,” Thomas said. “It’s a tough time for some of them, and I am happy to pitch in where I can.”
Thomas continued, “Especially since I wasn’t much older than them in 1993.”
Joey also relayed more personally philosophical reasons for sharing his love for history during this international crisis.
“(World War II) is the closest thing we’ve come to as a nation towards complete solidarity,” he said. “There’s a lot I like to teach and share from the model of (World War I and World War II) from a perspective of national identity and unity. The current pandemic only heightens my desire to help share those lessons.”