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Veterans Day

SAF/PA 2009 Air Force Public Affairs

Veterans Day, 2009

Today, we come together to honor and recognize American servicemembers past and present. This day of celebration and reflection originated from the signing of an armistice--a temporary cessation of hostilities--on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m., when all fighting ceased between the Allied nations and Germany, effectively ending World War I. 

A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, as the first commemoration of Armistice Day, a day, President Wilson said, "... filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, ...."

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. The actual legal federal holiday was approved by Congress in 1938. It wasn't until 1954 following World War II and the Korean War that Congress replaced "Armistice" with "Veterans," amending the original Act to commemorate November 11 -- a day in America when veterans of all wars are honored.

Veterans are recognized as men and women who have or are serving in America's Armed Forces. Today, Veterans Day is a celebration to honor all of America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. It is also a day for reflection--for remembering. 

Whether you wear the uniform today, or wore it decades ago, you (the veteran) represent a fundamental truth. It's not the powerful weapons that make our Air Force (military) the greatest in the world. It's not the sophisticated aircraft, missiles, rockets, satellites and cyber technology (systems) that make us the most advanced. The true strength of our Air Force (military) is the spirit and skill of our Airmen--and the true strength of all of our Armed Forces is seen in the men and women who have worn and now wear the uniform of our nation's military.

Veterans Day 2009 finds us a nation at war. Our sons and daughters continue to answer the call to support and defend our nation and our freedoms by serving around the globe in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no mystery behind the endurance and the success of our Airmen--and of the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen of our sister Services. In every generation, from the Revolutionary War to this very hour, brave Americans have stepped forward and served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States. Every one of you deserves the admiration of our entire country.

So, today, it is our privilege to say "thank you" to all of America's veterans, for your quiet courage and exemplary service--to let you know we are grateful and acknowledge your many sacrifices and accomplishments...

Here are a few examples: 

Staff Sergeant Zachary Rhyner, a Combat Controller, was presented the Air Force Cross, the highest military decoration awarded by the Air Force, and the Purple Heart, for uncommon valor for his actions during an intense six-and-a-half-hour battle in the Shok Valley, of Afghanistan, on April 6, 2008. Wounded by persistent insurgent fire, Sergeant Rhyner coordinated more than 50 aerial attacks against enemy fire while providing suppressive fire with his M-4 rifle as fellow teammates were extracted from the line of fire. An unprecedented 10 Silver Stars were also presented to Soldiers in the battle. When asked about his experience, Sergeant Rhyner, a Senior Airman at the time of the battle, modestly remarked, "Any other Combat Controller in the same position would've done just what I did."

The Airmen of "Bone 23," the crew aboard a B-1B Lancer assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia earned the 2008 Mackay Trophy for the "Most Meritorious Flight of the Year." Major Norman Shelton, Captain Kaylene Giri, Captain Louis Heidema and First Lieutenant Boyd Smith, faced with a critical fuel shortage provided close air support to troops at Vehicle Patrol Base Wanat in Afghanistan on July 13, 2008, repelling a two hundred-strong enemy force attempting to overrun that base and allowing coalition forces to regroup. The Joint Terminal Attack Controller requesting air support from the ground is the unsung hero of this prestigious award. Unassuming in his remarks, now-Captain Smith said, "It was an honor to fly with such a professional, well-trained crew."

Technical Sergeant James Thompson, an Anti-terrorism Force Protection NCO, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal last December for planning and executing 497 unit combat patrols during his deployment and assisted with 477 tactical responses to combat incidents, including responses to 12 improvised explosive device attacks. Of this award, Sergeant Thompson humbly said, "I owe special thanks to all the security forces men and women I worked with, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice."

Staff Sergeant Phillip Myers paid the ultimate sacrifice when he died of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device on April 4 near Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Sergeant Myers was awarded the Bronze Star Medal just thirteen months prior to his death for his support in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sergeant Myers was the first fallen hero to be filmed by the media during a dignified transfer operation at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, after Defense Secretary Robert Gates lifted the 1991 ban on media covering the return of servicemembers' remains.

These are just a few personal illustrations of how military service demands a special kind of commitment. For the time you spend in uniform, the interests of the nation always come first. And those burdens are shared by family members who make many sacrifices of their own, face separation during deployments, and sometimes bear permanent loss - but there are rewards.

There is the pride of developing one's character and becoming a leader, serving a cause far greater than any self interest and the nobility of protecting our nation. Every man and woman who wears America's uniform is part of a long, unbroken line of achievement and honor. No single military power in history has done greater good, shown greater courage, liberated more people, or upheld higher standards of decency and valor than the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

Airmen like you, and those Airmen I just described, are part of a legacy to be proud of. And those of you who contribute to this legacy must never be taken for granted. To honor our veterans, we must continue to keep the promises we have made. We must care for those who were injured in the service of our country. We must support the families of our deployed Airmen. We must honor and remember those who have died. 

And for the last 62 years, America has relied on an able sentry called the U.S. Air Force to be her shield and sword -- first in the air, then in space and now cyberspace, defending our nation against those who would do us harm. 

Airmen have continued to demonstrate the vital role they play in joint operations around the world. Today, the story of your service as veterans of our great nation is carried on by a new generation of dedicated, courageous Airmen--and by the veterans who serve in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard--and all who support them. 

America's Airmen have been at war for more than 18 continuous years, beginning with Operation Desert Storm in 1991. At this moment, nearly 40,000 Airmen are deployed in 135 countries around the world conducting military operations, and providing humanitarian care with peoples of nations around the globe.

From the mountains in Afghanistan, calling in precision air strikes and dropping relief supplies on postage-stamp landing zones, to the deserts and villages of Iraq, to the skies over our own country--veterans, in the air and on the ground, continue to ensure our nation's freedoms and way of life.

Looking beyond conflict, this year alone, our Airmen provided disaster response and humanitarian services to typhoon victims in the Philippines and Taiwan; to earthquake victims in Indonesia; to tsunami victims in American Samoa; and humanitarian aid to Pakistan. They serve in Iraq and Afghanistan on Provincial Reconstruction Teams helping local citizens develop their communities. They perform medical and dental care operations in countries around the world like Vietnam; and have provided H1N1 Influenza prevention kits to the people of Haiti, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. They build water and electricity sources; they mentor farmers and build new schools; they entertain children at orphanages in Kyrgyzstan and other countries. 

To these, and all of the brave and talented Airmen in America's Air Force ... and to all those who serve; to you and your families, and to all our veterans -- thank you. 

Airmen continue to serve long after they take off their uniform. You're seen across the nation supporting our troops and their families when they go to war; you welcome them when they come home; you volunteer and serve in jobs that give other veterans the care they deserve; and when America's heroes are laid to rest, you are there as a reminder of their service, sacrifice, courage and contributions to our grateful nation.

I'd like to read a passage from President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address delivered March 4, 1865, as the Civil War was nearing its end: 

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

President Lincoln's words have stood the test of time, and serve today as a commitment to never forget our veterans and those injured in our nation's defense and the families of those who have died in its service.

Veterans, you have done your duty--to your families, to your communities, to your fallen comrades, and to your country. You have honorably served your nation with great distinction. And we can never say it enough--for your (the Veterans') service in war and in peace--thank you and God bless you. 

God bless our Airmen and all of our veterans. And, God bless the United States of America. 

Thank you.