Everyday Heroes: Airman leads by example - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Everyday Heroes: Airman leads by example

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(09/17/12) - Every year, the Genesee-Lapeer chapter of the American Red Cross honors our friends, family and community members who stepped up when they were needed.

Those 'Everyday Heroes' will be honored at an event this Thursday. That includes a man who wears many hats. He's a teacher, firefighter and airman.

It's early September and Nathan Denryter is just getting to know his new students at Mayfield Elementary in Lapeer. "Eyes on me real quick."

First up, a self-portrait. "I've kind of got some spiky, messy hair."

That is a project he does every year.

"He's really nice, he helps you, like if you have any questions he'll answer them, and he takes you through all the steps," said fifth grade student Emma Trisch.

"Stay in those lines that we've just drawn with our pencils," explained Denryter to his students.

Rewind one year, and it was a much different start to the school year for the man these kids call, 'Mr. D'.

There's a reason Mr. D is wearing his dress blue uniform. In the Air National Guard, he's Technical Sergeant Denryter. "Right after September 11th. That was kind of a, a deciding factor."

Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, this airman was headed to a war zone, for the third time. His first two deployments took him to Iraq. This time it was destination Afghanistan. That wasn't the only difference.

"I was happy that he was going to serve for us, but then I was also sad that he was going to be leaving us," said fifth grade student Van Lenner.

During previous deployments, he was in college. This time around, Mr. D had to say goodbye to more than 700 kids. "It was tough. It's like what do you say to a little child? 'Hey I'm going to war'. Do they really understand that yet?"

"We lined up in the hallways and there was a song on the speakers and he walked through the hallways and waved at everyone, and then he left," Trisch said.

His next stop, Kandahar. There Denryter was more likely to use a wrench, than water color.

It's his job to make sure planes like this, are ready to go while serving as an aircraft mechanic with the 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "Find out what your jet's doing for the day. If it's broke, you fix it. If not, you wait for it to come back."

And while he was on base around the clock, there were some scary moments. "The walls in our room shook. Lockers were knocked over. I'd never heard anything that loud before. And I knew something hit close."

Denryter says that car bomb didn't blow up like it was supposed to. "Someone was looking out for us that day."

And it seems, this airman and art teacher always had someone looking out for him.

"I sent him a letter, saying how much I missed him," said fifth grade student Maggie Orwig.

Students sent him care packages, letters and even artwork. "Drew a picture, like this guy up on a pedestal. And he like directing all these tanks and planes and stuff, and had it labeled as me, you know being the guy directing everybody, you know leading the battle. I thought that was pretty funny," Denryter said.

Perhaps his favorite gift, a football. "I got that with a DVD, with the highlights from the season, that was a real, pick me up."

A month after returning to American soil, it was back to school. "I didn't think that the kids would be that happy to see me. I'm just their art teacher."

But to the kids, he's really much more. For many, Mr. D is the first person to illustrate what it means to protect and serve.

"It's really cool that he goes out and serves the military," said Zachary Lipka, a fifth grade student.

"If things are getting rough in the classroom, hey, you know, I've been to combat a few times, I've been shot at. If I can handle that I can handle kids in a classroom," Denryter joked.

And it may be hard to believe, but the airfield and classroom are just the beginning of his selfless service. Denryter is also a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Dryden. An art teacher by day, a firefighter at night - and an airman when his country calls.

"I'm very honored to be a positive role model for the kids. If I can change the life of just one kid, you know, in a positive way, all my effort has been worthwhile then," Denryter said.

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