BLACKFOOT — A self-admitted “screwball” from his school days returned to the halls of Blackfoot High School Monday morning to present an inspirational Veterans Day message during a special assembly at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center.

Nic Transtrum grew up in Blackfoot, grew out of his screwball days, and became a Blackhawk helicopter pilot assigned to an air assault unit in Iraq, where he flew 79 combat missions.

“I was told I had a learning disability in my school days,” Transtrum said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I didn’t apply myself.”

He grew out of that phase quickly when he started flying combat missions and had to calculate whether he had enough fuel to make it back to base when things were hot.

He related the true story of Hamburger Hill from the Vietnam War, a battle that involved multiple assaults on a South Vietnamese mountain with U.S. troops mowed down multiple times.

“Every one of those guys was someone’s son, brother, husband, father,” Transtrum said. “Think about that.”

U.S. forces finally took the hill on the 11th assault. Two weeks later, troops were ordered to abandon the hill with leaders saying it had no strategic value.

“What a tragedy when it wasn’t needed,” Transtrum said. “All that was done there will be a waste if you don’t do something with it,” by serving the country in positive ways in whatever the students choose to do with their lives.

Transtrum urged the students to understand, protect, and live the freedoms that have been fought for by America’s veterans.

“Live a life worth fighting for,” he said. “Give thanks to the vets who fought for those freedoms.

“Where does freedom exist?” Transtrum asked, answering by pointing to his chest. “It exists in each one of us. You need to apply it and figure out what you can do to uphold those freedoms.”

He said freedom can be lost with the rise and fall of nations.

“We are the poster child on what freedom is,” Transtrum said of America. “There’s military out there doing what needs to be done. The rest is just noise,” he said referring to analysts questioning whether the country should be involved in wars overseas.

“Each of you can do something to protect freedom. How do you live those freedoms? Being free to define what makes us happy and building our lives around it,” he added. “Dream big and go after it.”

The BHS symphonic band and choir honored the veterans in the audience by performing a medley to the different branches of the armed services. Toward the end of the assembly, the BHS jazz band performed the 1940s standard “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”