West Tisbury School welcomes home citizen soldier

Students greeted their principal with many hugs. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Fresh back from Afghanistan, principal and Marine colonel Michael Halt arrived at West Tisbury School on Wednesday morning to a tumultuous, joyous welcome from students, faculty, and staff.

The sun came out as if on cue as the entire school community lined up along the front entrance sidewalk to await Mr. Halt’s 9 am arrival. Although it was only a matter of minutes, the excitement grew by the second until a cry went up from the first one to spot his truck: “There’s Mike, here he comes!”

Mr. Halt stepped out to the sound of a cheering crowd, pulsating with children who jumped with joy. As he reached the front walk, students rushed towards him, with one group hug following another like a chain reaction.

Mr. Halt made his way slowly down the line, greeting the majority of students by name and stopping to meet new ones. Some of the younger children wanted to be picked up; others wrapped their arms around his neck or waist and held on tight or clung to him as he walked.

Mr. Halt’s return marked the end of his deployment as a colonel in the Marines Corps Reserves on a 15-month tour of active duty in Afghanistan. He flew back from Afghanistan on March 25 to Marines Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California and returned to Martha’s Vineyard on April 10.

A lot has changed since January 2010, as many of the students clamored to tell Mr. Halt in rapid-fire chatter. He grinned with surprise at several eighth-grade boys, who now stand tall enough to look him in the eye.

The gathering moved indoors to the gym, where seventh-graders Darby Patterson and Michelle DeGeofroy led the audience in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” A program that followed featured a song or poem performed by each class in tribute to Mr. Halt.

“I know you’re here to thank me, but I hope all of us will take a moment to sit here and reflect that what makes West Tisbury School so wonderful is the people who fill this gym,” Mr. Halt said. “It’s a celebration of all of us.”

He thanked everyone profusely for their outpouring of support for him and his family, both while he was overseas and since he has returned. Mr. Halt’s wife Laurie, assistant superintendent of schools, and stepdaughter Maggie Johnson, a senior at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, attended the celebration, as did superintendent of schools James Weiss and several of his staff.

When asked to describe his reaction to the celebration afterwards, Mr. Halt said “overwhelmed” was the only word that came to mind.

“As incredible as that was, what I’m looking forward to most is what comes next, which is getting a chance to walk into the classrooms and spend quality time reconnecting,” Mr. Halt said.