East Wilkes Middle holds Veterans Day celebration and surprise reunion

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WILKES COUNTY, N.C. -- Chance Cleary knew as an eighth-grader at East Wilkes Middle School that he wanted to enlist in the military.

“It was here at East Wilkes Middle School that set my foundation for my Army career,” Cleary said.

Ten years ago, Cleary had the opportunity to meet Richard Swaim at East Wilkes Middle School. Swaim had recently joined the army. Swaim’s mother was, and still is, a teacher at the school. At the time, Swaim had orders to go to Iraq. Before deployment, he stopped at the school to talk with students about the military. Cleary says this meeting inspired him to enlist.

Fast-forward to now, and Cleary is speaking to students at the same middle school. He talked about the importance of being a veteran. Sitting in the front row for his speech was Swaim.

“It’s crazy,” Swaim said. “Not seeing the kids in 10 years. Now he's a young man, put his life on the line for everybody.”

In 2012, during Cleary’s first tour in Afghanistan, he was hurt when a Humvee he was driving went over an IED. Cleary was rushed to the hospital in critical condition with severe head injuries, several broken bones and was in a coma for weeks. Cleary says doctors didn’t think he’d make it.

Today, Cleary still suffers physical complications from that accident. In January 2016, he’s scheduled to have surgery to remove his right leg.

“I'm not bitter about anything that happened to me. It's not going to change anything,” Cleary said.

Cleary hopes he can impact at least one of the students he spoke to during the ceremony. He hopes to inspire them, like Swaim inspired him.

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