Donald Gerhart’s journey has brought him full circle. A former JAG Arizona student at Tolleson High School, Donald used JAG as a stepping stone to a successful 17-year career in the Air Force. After retiring, he found his way back to JAG as a Coordinator and math teacher at Cooper Canyon High School.
Encouraged by his counselor to join JAG Arizona, Donald entered Ms. Candia’s class, where career assessments pointed him towards working in an electrical capacity. Life took unexpected turns, and after a brief, unsuccessful stint in college, he found himself working in a warehouse. Colleagues there suggested considering the military.
During his time in JAG, Donald spoke to recruiters from all branches of the armed forces. The Air Force was initially unresponsive, but undeterred, Donald reached out and found a way to enlist.
In the Air Force, Donald became an electrical environmental systems specialist, a role aligned with the career assessment path from his JAG days. His experiences included flying in the backseat of an F-16 over North Carolina, hitting a speed of Mach 1.2, and enduring forces of over 9Gs.
Reflecting on his JAG experience, Donald credits Ms. Candia and his football and wrestling coach for instilling discipline. He shifted his circle, gravitating towards JAG classmates and learning valuable life skills through group activities.
Post-military retirement, Donald’s wife convinced him to try teaching. He became a math teacher and later took on the role of JAG coordinator, drawing parallels between his professional growth in the Air Force and guiding his students on their paths.
“In the Air Force, it’s continuous growth. You start at the bottom and slowly get promoted, taking on more responsibility,” Donald notes. “I’ve taken that aspect of life and growing with my students.”
As a JAG alumnus in the armed forces, Donald offers a unique perspective on Veterans Day. He emphasizes the need to recognize the sacrifices of current and former service members, urging people to understand the unseen sacrifices made to protect the freedom we often take for granted.
For JAG students looking to honor Veterans Day, Donald suggests recognizing veterans’ sacrifices, engaging in activities like making plaques or setting up symbolic displays in the cafeteria. He emphasizes the impact of a simple gesture—thanking a veteran.
“Even if you acknowledge a veteran’s service, they are very appreciative,” Donald says. “When you hear, ‘thank you for your service,’ it’s impactful because it means a generation beneath me recognizes the sacrifices many of us have made.”