Remembering the Sacrifices and Service of Our Veterans

SAF/PA 2008 Air Force Public Affairs

Veterans Day, 2008

Today, I am one of thousands standing before people just like you in locations all over the world speaking about our veterans. It is a special day, one set aside to remind us of and to think about the sacrifices and service of our veterans...men and women who have valiantly and selflessly devoted giving themselves towards something greater than them selves...the United States of America. Indeed this day helps us focus our attention on the key purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
While the idea of a world without war is appealing, we have to remember that over the years, our veterans, through countless wars and struggles, have liberated oppressed peoples, ended genocide and toppled terrorist regimes. From the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terror, men and women from all walks of life have shared the common bond of their oath to defend this nation...no matter the danger or the enemy. And for this, we owe them a debt of gratitude. Not just today, but everyday.
As we think about giving thanks to our veterans, it's worth a moment to reflect on who our veterans are today. We remember our deceased veterans who have served and have been laid to rest. And we remember our living veterans, from World War I to our current conflicts. The times may have changed and warfare may have changed, but the veteran is still the same hero.
Reading about people like Frank Woodruff Buckles, our last surviving WWI veteran, is awe-inspiring. After joining the Army when he was 16 years old - he lied and said he was 21 - Private Buckles was sent to France to fight in the trenches. He endured the horrible conditions, protected his fellow soldiers, bravely fought the enemy and then returned to the U.S. to live the life of a quiet hero.
Throughout the decades, there are countless stories of veterans like Private Buckles whose unheralded acts of bravery and selflessness made a difference in every major American conflict, from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, the War on Terror and all of the conflicts, struggles and humanitarian missions in between. Since September 11th, our country has again become acutely aware of our new veterans, the courageous men and women facing an often unknown terrorist enemy dispersed in locations all over the world. Their ages range from the young 18-year-old Airman to the older, experienced non-commissioned and commissioned officer who has endured multiple deployments in support of the War on Terror. They are fighting this war in ways we haven't seen before, from the front lines like Afghanistan and Iraq to the confines of a building located in the states where some are flying armed unmanned aircraft systems to strike the enemy. They are both warfighters and nation builders. They find and target terrorists at the same time they are developing relationships between regional and religious leaders in order to build a peaceful nation.
Our veterans today are like Senior Airman Vanessa Velez, who deployed to Afghanistan for a year as part of the Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team. This is her third deployment in as many years. At home, she is in vehicle maintenance. In Afghanistan, she has been driving convoys in a Humvee...one of the most dangerous jobs in that region. Airman Velez has completed more than 120 convoys into enemy territory. She says she gets immense job satisfaction from constantly thinking about all of the peoples lives she has in her hands while she is driving her vehicle. So far, she's kept all of her passengers safe. The provincial reconstruction teams that Airman Velez and her team lead in Afghanistan have been so successful that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has used them as a template to help rebuild other places like Iraq. To Airman Velez, a true veteran hero, it's all in days work.
Our veterans today are also like Technical Sergeant Stephen Achey, recipient of a Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan. While on a mission in the Shahi Kot Valley, his team began taking fire from three directions. Sergeant Achey returned fire before a mortar round hit close to his feet and flipped him over. Sergeant Achey thought he was dead. When he finally sat up and realized he was alive and his teammates needed him, he found cover and called for air support. Realizing he lacked a good global positioning system to provide coordinates to the supporting aircraft, he selflessly ran under fire into enemy territory to retrieve a GPS that had been dropped in earlier fighting. Once he had it, he provided coordinates to air support which consequently destroyed a bunker filled with Taliban extremists and al Qaeda fighters. To Sergeant Achey, a true veteran hero, this was all part of a days work.
Our veterans today are like Major Rhys Hunt, a helicopter pilot. Major Hunt was part of Joint Task Force 129 which rescued and evacuated 48 people and 13 pets in a single day in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike this past September. When he and his crew of pararescuemen arrived in Galveston, Texas, the area resembled a war zone...houses were on fire and everything was flooded. The crews flew their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters low and slow over the area hoping the sounds of the rotor blades would prompt survivors to leave their damaged homes to seek assistance. Many did. In one instance, they found an elderly man, two of his family members and their dog stranded on a rooftop. Using the helicopter's hoist, the pararescuemen rappelled down to the house and lifted the family from danger. Their actions epitomized the Air Force rescue motto "That Others May Live." But to Major Hunt, a true veteran hero, it was all part of a days work.
For as long as we have been the United States, we have had veterans. Our history is filled with their brave actions and quiet courage. Faced with different challenges, today's veterans are no different than those in our past. The theme of service before self in the Air Force - and in every service - is a constant one that binds our veterans together through the decades. Service before self is why we owe all of our veterans a debt of gratitude...yesterday, today and tomorrow. On this Veterans Day, let us remember and honor all those who have served, for they are true heroes.