two females wearing Army camo stand in front of small elementary children that have swimming rings around their waists. They are waiting to start an obstacle course

This year was PE Teacher Holly Drain's first year back in Tyler ISD and she decided to do Field Day a little differently at Owens Elementary School. She chose a military theme with the elementary students rotating through 16 stations every 10 minutes. "Operation Soaring Eagles" was born, and a new, exciting, and fun way to spend a day at the end of the school year had everyone thrilled.

Ms. Drain created a unique ambiance for the event. Each student dressed in camouflage and was assigned to a team named using the military alphabet and other military jargon. All games had a title that tied into the military. Some were even complete military-style obstacle courses, including climbing walls, Army crawls, jumping over barricades, dodging in and out of camouflage tunnels, and even carrying boats around the sharks! The participants learned what the Navy Seals always ask, "Who will carry the boats?"  She tied military traditions together as a way for students to connect with what is truly important—making sure to recognize our current and past military soldiers for all they do for our country.  

Weeks before the actual event Ms. Drain talked about the different military branches and how they have helped our country. Ms. Drain took advantage of even having one of our staff members, James Biles, a former Army Paratrooper, discuss his personal experience of serving our country. "We have all these living, breathing examples of courage all around us, and we need to utilize their voices with our students," said Drain. It was so powerful to hear it from somebody who lived this experience. The students were fascinated to know that their school paraprofessional/teacher's aide was in the real Army and jumped out of planes so that we would be safe."

Ms. Drain also made a "cold call"' in person at the Army Military Recruiting office here in Tyler.  She ended up meeting with a Sergeant there who was kind enough to help her fulfill her vision.  She wanted them to come out on the campus and be a part of this so Owens students could see these soldiers in person and meet them.  She knew the impact on a child when they see servicemen and women in uniform. However, Ms. Drain knew that this would be a challenging task since they are extremely busy with what is going on in the world, and she wanted to be very sensitive to that fact. They told her that they would not be allowed to come in an official capacity but that if the event were held, they would stop by as they knew how much it would mean to our students. And they did!  

The Sergeant had given Ms. Drain several Army Dog Tags to hand out to her students. Several weeks before field day, she explained to students there were only a handful of these dog tags. Still, she would be coming around during "Operation Soaring Eagles" to recognize the students putting forth their best effort and showing a great attitude. She explained it was necessary because this was not a toy. They were not something from Amazon, and these were the REAL DEAL Army Dog Tags. It was something to be incredibly proud of if they were to receive one. Students knew, "We don't care if you WIN the game, but rather we care how you PLAY!"  On the morning of the event, the Army Sergeants walked with the PE teacher around the entire field and checked-in with other teachers to assist in selecting deserving students to receive their tags. The students were so proud and excited to receive them! Even a week after Field Day was over, they were still wearing them to school every day!

Student greeters were stationed in the front of the school to start conversations with the visitors/family members attending Field Day. Guests were asked if they were currently serving our country in the armed forces or if they were a veteran. If so, an American Flag sticker was placed on their visitor's name badge. If any students saw a person on campus with that sticker on their name badge, they needed to look them in the eyes and say, "Thank you for your service."  There were different military branch flags so that students would recognize them if they saw them on a t-shirt or ball cap, and they could create a conversation with that soldier. Students also submitted photos of their loved ones who were currently serving in the armed forces or had previously served. A display wall for those pictures was at the "Command Post," the central meeting place for all volunteers. The Command Post also housed a station where students painted banners for the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars after the event.

Support came from the following incredible organizations:  Tyler Legacy Bass Fishing Club, Tyler Legacy Girls' Soccer Team, Tyler Police Department, Tyler Junior College, Owens PTA, and Owens staff and students. 


Operation Soaring Eagles was a success! This was my favorite Field Day I’ve ever done. The support from my community was amazing! Thank you to my staff, students, PTA, Tyler Police Department, Tyler Junior College, Legacy Bass Fishing Club & Girls' Soccer for helping pull this off. But honestly, I’m MOST grateful to the current military family members and veterans who showed up today for our students! We’ve been talking about you for a while and hoping you all would come. You made this whole experience unforgettable. YOU are the ones who deserve all the recognition. I could barely talk about it in class leading up to this event because I’m just one of those ones who feels all ”the feels.” I loved seeing how many of my students were so proud to talk about their loved ones who served and who were ready to thank the ones who were with us today. Whew.  Yeah…this one was just extra special in so many ways. - Holly Drain