Return to Headlines

Lukas Allison: Lessons from a Veteran and a Teacher

Shelby County Public Schools hosted several Veterans Day Programs on Monday, November 12th.  At the West Middle School program, art teacher Lukas Allison spoke to the students about his time in the army and the lessons that life has taught him.  We thank him for sharing with students, staff, and now, the community. 

The Speech:

“There is no such thing as closure for soldiers who have survived a war. They have an obligation, a sacred duty, to remember those who fell in battle beside them all their days and to bear witness to the insanity that is war.”  -- Hal Moore

Veterans day holds special meaning to me. As a Veteran of the Army and a  combat veteran, I have experienced first hand the emotional meaning behind the day.  Hal Moore wrote: “In the silence of the night we will always hear the screams. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once, and young”.

Like those soldiers who fought before me, I, too, was a soldier once, and young. Merely a child in both body and mind. I joined the military only two months after I barely graduated from high school. I was lazy; I was unmotivated, and in a lot of ways I was misunderstood and angry about things that were far beyond my control. I was homeless, jobless, and yet still hopeful and idealistic. I decided to join the military for a few reasons. I wanted to serve and support my country.  I needed a job I would get paid to learn, and most of all, my step-father once told me if I joined the Marines he’d break my legs, so I became an Army soldier instead.

I left basic training in the best physical and mental strength of my life. I had a purpose, and I was proud; I had faced one of the most difficult tasks of my entire life, and came out the other side with flying colors. I was so young and so full of passion, and like many of my brothers in arms, I was itching to go to war and prove myself as a man.

After a very short year, I got that wish when my unit was deployed to northern Iraq. I was detached from my unit, and my platoon; an element of about twenty soldiers was sent to a combat outpost in the middle of the desert. We were surrounded by chicken-wire, a few machine guns, and miles and miles of sand.

My mission was anti-terrorism, anti-IED (or improvised explosive device) control, and search and seizure of munitions caches and militant persons. Basically, my team of twenty men, divided into four trucks, drove the major highway from Mosul in northern Iraq, to just north of Baghdad in central Iraq in the hopes that we would be attacked by an IED emplacement. When we weren’t doing that, we were kicking in doors and searching homes for people and weaponry that shouldn’t be there.

My vehicle was targeted over twenty times. There were times when an explosion would go off beside you and you had no idea where it came from. Times when you could hear bullets and shrapnel whiz by your ears. Times when you could see the tail-flames of an RPG or rocket propelled grenade coming your way, and all you could do was pray that the person on the other end had bad aim. There were times when mortars would land around you as you slept because you were too dog tired to even be bothered.

There were times when the fighting stopped. Times when the silence was more deafening than the explosions themselves.

There were times when brothers fell, and times when a phone call home was the only semblance of real-life we had.

Each of us were young when we went to war, and in many of us, that youthful innocence died. It was replaced by a coldness, and a lack of emotion, because any other way would prove you weak, or get you killed.

That is war, and that is why we remember the men and women who served; many lost their lives, but every one of them lost a part of their soul.

When I came home, there were several parts of me that felt like they were missing. I was damaged. I was hurting over the loss of brothers, and I had no idea what was going to happen to me.

I sustained injuries to my brain, my back, and my knees during the line of combat duty, which meant that I was no longer of use to the military, and I was going to be discharged back into civilian life.

I was kicked out of the one place I felt I belonged. Again, I was homeless, jobless, and had no idea where to go or what I was going to do with myself. And that anger about things that I couldn’t control was burning once again. I was faced with a choice. Two paths laid before me.

One path led me down the use of alcohol to cope with the pain and the disparity, and the other path led me on a very long journey to recovery. One choice is all I had to make. At first, I made the wrong one. Alcohol was the easy way to cope, but it never helped; not really. In reality it made my problems that much worse when the high wore off.

Eventually, I hit rock bottom. Laying in the middle of the street, with a broken eye socket, and a freshly cleaned out wallet, I made a second choice. I chose to pick myself up out of the dirt, and I used every bit of assistance I could find to get sober, and go back to school. And when I finished my Associates degree, I was a little better, a little stronger, and a little less broken.

But again, life threw me a curve ball. I had gone through a bad divorce.  I was still dependent on medication that affected my brain and my body, and I could not find a job that provided enough money to make rent and eat, and I had just learned that my father’s health was declining quickly. Once again, I was kicked in the dirt and forced to make a difficult choice.

The life of alcohol was tempting, and I even slipped once or twice back down that path. Ultimately, I picked myself up again, dusted off, sobered up, and soldiered on.

I moved in with my father to not only take care of him, but to save money so that I could afford to eat and go to school. I got my Bachelor’s degree in two very quick years, my father’s health had begun to improve, and again my brain was finally healing. I had completely removed all medication from my body, and I felt as though I was handling my situation on my own for the first time in several years.

Fast-forward a few years, and once again there was hardly any work in the field I studied. The problem I faced was one that is a beautiful problem to have. I met my amazing wife, married her, and gained two lovely children who I am proud to claim as my own even if we don’t share blood; and a third, equally lovely child of our own creation. A new family meant that I was pretty grounded to this area, and there just wasn’t work in computer animation in rural/suburban Kentucky.

Once again, I was faced with a choice. Do I try to raise my family with minimal income, in the poverty bracket? Or, do I go back to school once again?

After doing some soul searching and reading, I came across the term “The Natural Teacher” and all the things I had read didn’t seem to be mere coincidence. Before I knew it, things began to fall into place, and in what seemed like no time at all, I was taking classes to become a teacher through Liberty University in Virginia.

When it came time to do my student teaching, everything was falling into place again. Then, the rug was pulled out from under me. Turns out, if you are studying education in Virginia, you aren’t allowed to student teach in Kentucky.

We were back to those choices, and feeling like I was being dragged through the ringer again. However, I had learned so much about life, and I knew that one way or another “Everything works out for me.” This became my new life mantra.

I landed a long-term sub position to finish out the year, and was offered the open art position just before school let out for summer. Now, here I am, standing proud, and teaching visual arts. I am blessed to share my passion, knowledge, and life-experience with a group of amazing children. I am a father of three beautiful children, a husband to an amazing, supportive woman, and a man who is full to the brim with love and passion for art and teaching. I tell you this, to make a point that I feel is one of the most important bits of wisdom we can take away from life.

The only thing in life you have the power to control is your choices. Everything we do in life comes down to a choice. Every situation we face, no matter how difficult, no matter how hopeless it seems to us at the time, can be changed with the power of choice.

I want you to know, that it is never too late to make a choice to change your life for the better. Even if you have made a hundred bad choices in a row, one good choice can change your life.

I am so blessed to have had the experiences I’ve had, and to have known the men and women with whom I served. Without those experiences, I would not be the man I am today, and I would not have the life I live, or the loves that I now know.

Being a soldier not only shaped my moral compass, but instilled in me the work ethic and determination to get back up when life beat me down. Veterans Day serves as a reminder of everything I lost that I once had, but more importantly, every beautiful thing that I gained because of it.

I was a soldier once, and young. I will remember those whose lives were stolen and remain forever young, and I will honor them by making the best choices I can, so that the life that I have been blessed with is not wasted.

As I leave you today, I want you to think about the choices you make. I want you to think to yourself; will this choice help someone, or is this choice going to hurt someone, myself included? If it’s the latter answer, I hope you will choose differently.