The three soldiers spoke of the major decisions they have made.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- "I've never been prouder to introduce speakers as I am these three men," Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino told the ninth-grade class at Neshannock High School on Monday.
Michael Phillippi, Joe Rendos and Brandon Rishel, who all served as military police in Iraq, were the keynote speakers for the "Adopt-a-School" commencement program.
The program, sponsored by The Federal Bureau of Investigation, The U.S. attorney's office and the Lawrence County District Attorney's office, was launched five years ago in the Shenango Area School District. Mangino said every ninth-grade student in Lawrence County participates in the adopt-a-school program.
The students are educated on reducing crime, substance abuse, date rape and other social issues they may face.
Mangino said during the eight-week adopt-a-school program students gain appreciation for the rights and laws governing them. They get exposed to various members of the community ranging from a parent who lost a child in a drunk driving accident to a speaker from the Lawrence County Juvenile Probation office.
Teaching the students to make correct decisions was a key part of the program.
Phillippi, Rendos and Rishel spoke of the decisions they have made. The three young men were activated as military police for "A" Co. of the 107th Field Artillery Unit of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in December 2003.
Phillippi and Rendos served as team leaders for personal security while in Iraq.
Phillippi, an Ellwood City resident, described Mosul, Iraq, as an area with trees, grass and stores. "When we first arrived, we thought we're not in a war zone. That was until the mortars started falling."
He told the students the war in Iraq is a good cause. "It is slow, with a lot of bad things happening, but we're going to reach our goal," he said.
He said America will stay there until the goal of freedom for all Iraqis is reached.
Phillippi said, " There is no greater honor than serving your country."
One student asked Sgt. Joe Rendos to describe the Purple Heart award, which is given to military personnel who are wounded in action.
Rendos was awarded with a purple heart after he was injured by a car bomb.
He told the students, "It's an award, but I don't think anyone wants to get one."
The Grove City Area High School graduate joined the National Guard to help fund his education at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
Rendos said, "You may ask, with all this bad stuff, 'Why do it?' I look at it as one of life's lessons. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Rishel, 21, of Shenango Township, said he believes the war has received a lot of bad publicity.
"When you see how much you're helping these people, you know you're there for a good cause," Rishel said.
He told the group that before America went to Iraq if a people were caught saying something bad about Saddam Hussein, they and their family might be killed.
We don't realize how good we have it here, he said. The average Iraqi family income is $120 a month. "Some of you may be wearing $120 on your feet."
"Before you make a decision, stop for five minutes and think about who it is going to affect." Rishel said.
"Our family took the brunt of our decision to join the National Guard," he said. "[The families] were the ones worrying when we went to Iraq."
Rishel concluded by telling the group of attentive students, "If you don't care about yourself, think about the people who care about you before taking an action."