PANAMA CITY — Tom P. Haney Technical Center hosted veterans of all branches for their seventh annual luncheon on Friday.
The smell of food wafted through the room packed full of veterans sharing stories.
Haney currently has 36 students and 10 staff members who are veterans. One of those students is a 10th-generation military member.
Ellen Ranow served in the Army for 12 years.
"There’s a lot of camaraderie and a little rivalry from the branches, which is typical," Ranow said. "They always take really good care of the vets."
Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt was in attendance along with Col. Brian Laidlaw, commander of the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base, and Commander Kevin Christenson, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Panama City.
Before the vets could dive into their food, Haney played the service anthems of all branches. They encouraged the vets to stand up and sing along when their anthem played.
A common theme of the luncheon was the appreciation of Haney for constantly hosting this event every year.
"It means a lot that they take the effort to plan this every year," said Haney student Rayce Boyd.
Haney started doing the annual luncheon for veterans because such a large number of their students and staff members were veterans.
"I think this is just another example of why both current military and veterans love this area so much, because of places like Haney," Laidlaw said. "It’s just another example of what makes this entire area such a great place to serve."
Emotions were high when some veterans discussed their stories with one another. Haney even included a missing man table that honors POWs and MIAs.
"We try to be very respectful because we know their time in the military was so meaningful," said Media Specialist Suzanne Vann. "We ask them to be here so we can celebrate what they’ve done."
Even though painful memories from their time in service can be triggered, veterans seemed to appreciate the chance to reflect on it and share.
"When you do take the time at events like this to really pause, for a lot of people it’s the first time you’ve thought about those things in a really long time," Laidlaw said. "It shows how strongly they felt about their service, how impactful their time was in the military and, hopefully, there’s pride in what they’ve done and accomplished."