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Navy SEAL 'gives back' to kids in classroom Q&A

Jimmy Battista isn't all that comfortable talking about himself. Even if some might see him as one of Pasco County's success stories.

Before finishing the arduous training to become a Navy SEAL (one of about 20 to finish from a class that started with 130), he was the first Pasco kid to win a state title for swimming (he won the backstroke title in 1997 as a student at River Ridge High).

"That was a long time ago," he says in a way that moves the conversation onto something else.

But put Battista, 26, in a classroom filled with middle school kids asking all sorts of questions about his life as a Navy SEAL, and he seems perfectly at ease in his own humble, soft-spoken way.

He was more than happy to visit with a childhood friend's mom - Seven Springs Middle School teacher Paula Lesko - and meet the kids who had sent care packages filled with white socks, goodies and personal hygiene items to share with his platoon.

"I enjoy giving back," he said, after spending a couple of hours dressed in uniform talking with students.

"And hopefully something I say will motivate them to do something with their life.

"I think everyone should return to their community to give something back. Even if they don't live here anymore."

These days Lt. j.g. Battista is back from a seven-month deployment in Iraq and living in Virginia Beach. But for a couple of weeks he's home in New Port Richey for the holidays to enjoy some of his mom's fine home cooking and attend a friend's wedding.

He told the students in Paula Lesko's geography class that he helped train Iraqi forces.

"So how was the food?"

"We ate very well. The food was great, all things considered," adding that while on base at Camp Liberty he lived in a trailer "with air conditioning and all those good things."

Still, he added, there were others who serve on bases in the desert that might get to take a shower once a week. "Those are the real soldiers."

"Did you wear body armor?"

"Yes, basic plates that protected us against different threats we might face over there, and of course a helmet."

"Are you going back?"

"I'll probably go back in another 18 months."

"Was it really like how they describe it on the news?"

"Everybody has a different job there, so everybody has a different perspective."

"Are there women in the Navy SEALs?"

"There are no women in the Navy SEALs - we'll see, though. Maybe in a few years."

"What's it like to jump out of an airplane?"

"I get butterflies in the stomach. Once your parachute opens, you feel pretty happy. That's every time you jump out of an airplane. It doesn't change."

"What if your parachute doesn't open?"

"You have a reserve for that."

"What if that one doesn't open?"

"You're out of luck."

"How's the water over there?"

"Water is an interesting thing. There are two rivers in Iraq, but water is a hot item on the black market besides bullets, beans and guns. Running water - hot water - we take for granted, and they have none of that. That's why the people are so upset with us and their own country."

And how do you feel about those who want to support the troops but don't support the war?

"You know that people are opposed to policy. We're not at liberty to question the policy. I think ultimately they support me - they want to bring me home. They don't want any more people hurt. I think that's where that's coming from."

And, finally, any words of advice?

"Always be learning. Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. You'd be surprised how much you can learn that way. ... All of you are talented in some way and some form. Some people find that talent when they're young. Some find it when they're old. Whatever you do with that talent, just do it well."