A 2017 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that 2.2% of teachers in America are military veterans. Over the years, Pace Academy has employed faculty who have served in the United States military. Two of the current faculty who have served (spotlighted here) are math teacher Diane Hagner and history department chairperson Tim Hornor. Technology Coordinator Neil DeRosa and Fine Arts Center technical director Scott Sargent are also veterans.
For Ms. Hagner, the military community and culture has always been like home. “I grew up in the Marine Corps,” said Ms. Hagner. “Both of my parents were in the Marine Corps. I kind of grew up around that culture of doing stuff for others. Not just your neighborhood community, but also the larger U.S. community as a whole.”
However, in spite of these close ties to the military, Ms. Hagner never consciously thought about joining the military herself when she was growing up. It was only when she had finished college that she started considering military service. “I was headed to med school when I first learned about the nuclear program in the Navy,” said Ms. Hagner. “In college, I was a math major and physics minor. So when I found out about that program in the Navy Nuclear Power School, it was like a switch flipped in my head. I pulled out of med school and applied to the program.”
In contrast to Ms. Hagner, Mr. Hornor never had such close ties to the U.S. military. “I went to The Dalton School in New York, which is even more Pace Academy than Pace Academy, and no one that went to Dalton joined the military,” said Mr. Hornor. Instead, it was the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War that propelled Mr. Hornor to enlist.
“I genuinely thought, and I still do believe today, that the Soviet regime was an evil regime,” he said. “It went against many of the values that I hold dear, like freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. It was a danger to the world as I valued it.” When Mr. Hornor transferred to the University of Rochester, he stumbled upon a military table at a career fair. “On a whim, really, I gave them my name,” he said. “And I remember the next morning the guy was at my door. So I joined there, at the door, and I loved it.”
Mr. Hornor’s experience was physically grueling. During his time in college, he received basic training, served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps and attended Airborne School. Through Airborne School, Mr. Horner “ended up ultimately jumping out of airplanes about 111 times,” an experience he found fulfilling. “As a young man, I think there was a sort of virtue in doing that kind of thing, given the Cold War time period,” he said.
Mr. Hornor also attended Ranger School, a grueling experience which he admits “nearly killed me.” This 10-week-long course, regarded as being the Army’s toughest course, would consist of getting one dehydrated meal and 48 minutes of sleep per day. That said, the experience was a valuable one since it taught him “a lot about optimism and about human capacity.” “Virtually anyone can do anything if they actually put their mind to it, which is hopefully what I bring to the classroom,” he said.
After he graduated from college, Mr. Hornor was posted to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Korea. There he served as the guard post commander for guard post Ouellette, which was dangerous, according to Mr. Hornor. “They shot at us and exploded mines around us,” he said. At the time, it was also the most forwardly deployed unit in the Cold War. Despite the dangers, it was an overall experience that Mr. Hornor found “intoxicating.”
After a hard one and a half years in Korea, Mr. Hornor became a Ranger Instructor, a feat that he said “even a fewer number of people could achieve, and especially rare for a first lieutenant captain.” Mr. Hornor retired from the U.S. Army after close to four and a half years of service.
Ms. Hagner’s experience wasn’t as physical but was still grueling. She was deployed to the Navy Nuclear Power School. The base restricted public access as “everything in the base was confidential, classified, top secret,” Ms. Hagner recalled. There, Ms. Hagner went through intense training. “What happens is anyone who wants to serve in the capacity of running the nuclear reactor that powers the different ships, whether it was a surface ship or a submarine, has to go through the school first,” she said. “I was a student and had to take the classes that I was going to teach: a total of six weeks of pure book work from algebra to calculus.”
What made that experience even more challenging was that students could get asked to leave if they did not maintain an average of at least a B+. After a “grim” six weeks, Ms. Hagner graduated and began teaching enlisted navy officers and officers preparing for their new posts. She taught in the chemistry, math, and physics and radiation theory departments, teaching four classes a day. Ms. Hagner spent the entirety of her time in the military teaching at the Navy Nuclear Power School.
Although they had different experiences within the military, Ms. Hagner and Mr. Hornor did share a relatively smooth transition into academia. Ms. Hagner, who spent her military career teaching, found herself doing the very thing she did while serving. Similarly, Mr. Hornor was a Ranger instructor in the military, so he had experience in a fairly similar line of work. “I had always been interested in sort of military history,” said Mr. Hornor. “It was actually my entry into normal history more generally.” Mr. Hornor now teaches AP Art History, AP European History, and AP US History at Pace.
With Memorial Day approaching on May 31, Ms. Hagner and Mr. Hornor shared how they have honored fallen soldiers that served this country.
Ms. Hagner remembers that, during her tenure in the military, “there were always services on Memorial Day involving prayers on base.” She remembers how the chaplain would come and how the community would hold a service at the cemetery honoring the fallen. Even today, post military retirement, Ms. Hagner continues this ritual. “We will go to the cemetery attached to my church and have a color guard, honor guard, and service to honor all the fallen,” she said. “And if the church does not have that, then I will go with my family to the cemetery to remember.”
On Memorial Day, Mr. Hornor reflects on the ethos of the holiday as well as U.S. military service in general. “I think of people who did a lot more than me, which is a legion of people,” said Mr. Hornor. “Just go through the Congressional Medal of Honor list and you’ll see many, most of whom are dead, yes, and who have sacrificed everything for the country – 400,000 plus in World War II, 115,000 in World War I, 64,000 in Vietnam, and so on. Those are real people from real families who decided to sacrifice everything for not only the people but also for ideals.”
Mr. Hornor also notes that those who serve aren’t solely serving out of institutional loyalty. “Ultimately, you don’t just fight the cause, you fight for the person next to you,” he said. “You love the people in your platoon and you’ll do anything for them, including all sorts of things that you would not anticipate doing for others other than your wife or your kids.”
Mr. Hornor is also of the belief that the flag plays an important role in honoring the fallen. “I hang the flag – the flag, I think, is aspirational,” he said. “The United States is aspirational. Our society is aspirational. I’m a little baffled by people who think that, somehow, we’ve arrived. It’s an unending journey of trying to be better every day, and so the flag is a sign of our aspirations, not our society as we find it. That’s why the flag continues to inspire people, I think, to join the military, to defend the country, and defend its principles.”
Top Photo: Math teacher Diane Hagner in her first official military photo (as Diane L. Brouillette, Ensign, USN). Photo: Diane Hagner