Honoring those who came before us

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 19:40

Last week, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak at a Spartan Brigade redeployment ceremony for the second time in my career. I was the brigade commander and brought them home from a tough deployment to Iraq in 2006 and now could not have been prouder to welcome them home from Afghanistan as their commanding general.

When Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell spoke at last week’s ceremony, he invited all the paratroopers to settle in Alaska when they complete their service to the Army. I know this was a genuine request, because Alaska has a higher percentage of veterans than any other state in the nation.

We are truly blessed to serve in such patriotic communities. Alaska values the training, experience, standards and personal worth instilled in those who have sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect their homeland.

Veterans Day has its roots in the conclusion of World War I. That was to be the “war to end all wars.” Now, nearly a century later we see through the wisdom of hindsight just how wrong that claim proved to be. The last hundred years have been fraught with conflict and our nation has called over and over again for valiant young men and women to serve on battlefields across the globe.

The bravery and heroism displayed by those who answered the call endure in the pages of history. No one can appreciate their sacrifice and burden more than those of us who have served in our military over the past twelve years of war. Having been through the crucible of combat operations ourselves, we have a great appreciation for what it takes to protect a nation at war.

It takes profound strength to wear this uniform, and once someone has earned the right to wear our colors, they are bonded to us for life. The uniforms we wear have changed many times in our history. What hasn’t changed is the determination, patriotism and spiritual strength of those who volunteer to serve in our ranks.

Like the uniforms we wear, the perception of veterans has changed during the past decade. Nearly half of those serving today are between 22 and 30 years old. America now has the highest population of young veterans since the Vietnam War.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly three million Americans have taken the oath to defend a nation at war. Now, more than a decade later, more than 1.3 million service members who have deployed to war have left the service and returned to civilian life.

With the war in Iraq now over and the war in Afghanistan nearing completion, the Army is projected to get smaller during the next five years. We expect more than 130,000 Soldiers to leave the Army this year and more than 500,000 by 2017.

Our Army is committed to the lifelong success of our Soldiers, veterans and their families through programs that provide employment, healthcare and education opportunities. The Transition Assistance Program exists to help separating Soldiers transition successfully to get a civilian job, start a business, go back to school or enroll in training programs. When our veterans are successful, they add to the strength of the Army.

Occasionally, I hear claims that the Army doesn’t care about its Soldiers and their families. There is nothing further from the truth. NOBODY cares as much as the Army does. No civilian corporation or any other group puts as much time, effort and resources into supporting the welfare of the people in their organization as our Army. For example, last September the entire Army dedicated a full day to suicide prevention education. Think of the millions of man-hours that cost. I can’t imagine a bank or car company dedicating that kind energy and lost production for the welfare of their employees.

Another example is the Warrior Transition Units. WTUs are dedicated to the healing and recovery of injured Soldiers. They facilitate the recovery process, in some cases for years, to provide wounded warriors the opportunity to return to serve in our ranks or else effectively transition as a veteran to the civilian world with every possible opportunity to succeed.

Soldiers, veterans and their families have given so much to the defense and safety of our people and nation. We who continue to serve have a sacred duty to maintain their trust and faith in us and remind them that they are our legacy and will always be a cornerstone of our nation’s strength.

Unless we make the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, each of us currently serving will be a veteran some day. I encourage you to take the time to thank a veteran for their service. Remind them that those of us still serving appreciate what they have done for their nation. If it weren’t for the efforts of those who defended America before us, we wouldn’t have the privilege of defending her today.

Arctic Warriors! Arctic Tough!

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