The following is a speech my son gave last year and I want to re-post it in honor of his father who is currently serving in Kuwait right now. I am blessed to be counted among the loyal as someone who loves and supports the men and women who serve to keep our freedoms. Thank you to all who support them and the families they leave behind. My gratitude is with you.
At 1:30 pm on October 19th of 2012 I stood before you and gave last year’s Veteran’s Day Speech. At 1:30 pm on May 26th, seven months later, I officially became a United States Soldier, graduating from Boot Camp in August of 2013. In the 12 months since I was last standing here giving a speech about honoring our Veteran’s over 400 United States Soldiers have sacrificed their lives, dying in a war fought to protect our freedoms. I stand here, but I do not stand alone.
Today, it is all our voices that should be heard. While I may be standing with the privilege of addressing you, I do not take lightly that it is the accumulative sacrifice, the years of hardship and service, and the ultimate experiences we share of all that it requires to be and to support an American Soldier. I say to you, thank you.
Last year I spoke about what it means to honor a Veteran, that the lives of those who pay the ultimate price for our freedom deserve respect and appreciation not just one day a year but every day, and how we can and should hold ourselves accountable to ensuring we live lives of gratitude and appreciation for those who take the ultimate action to serve us.
Yet, Boot camp changed me. There were many times as I lay in the fields at the rising of the sun, without sleep in the cold, and thought of that speech I gave last year. Against the sounds of grenades, machine guns, and my Drill Sergeants making me drop and do sixty – I thought about all the reasons I was doing what I was.
We’d been in training for nearly 8 weeks without any telephone contact to the outside world, the only motivation we’d had to keep giving 110% was the promise from our Drill Sergeants that as we moved into weeks 9 and 10 we would earn a phone call. I pressed forward with all the strength I had, despite the conditions, recalling those years I would sit with my mother staring at the computer screen hoping that this day, after so many days and months, my father would be able to make contact from Iraq. I remembered, as I was required to keep awake, keep moving, keep pushing – that eventually the reward had to come – I could hear my families voice soon. It would be the motivation I would take into the next phase.
I’ll never forget what it felt like to have that taken away. The reward of hard work and effort completely wiped away in a second’s beat as the Drill Sergeants laughed at us, making fun of our expectation of reward. The lesson … soldiers don’t fight for praises, rewards, or accolades. They fight because it is their duty. Having realized, in those weeks, exactly what it would require of me to move forward, I gradually began to grasp the true heart and soul of a soldier.
And what I have come to understand, since being back, is that soldiers don’t and can’t serve to be given accolades, praises, or even the return of acknowledgement and gratitude that you and I might think is worthy. Veteran’s have lived lives that very few others can even begin to comprehend. They keep nightmare’s and experiences tucked deep into their souls, knowing that these burdens are there’s alone to carry. Only those who serve beside them can truly understand what it is a soldier goes through. So, what is it that we can truly do to appreciate and honor our Veteran’s knowing they do not serve for our praises, but for the safety of our lives – they do not seek our gratitude but yet fight for our freedoms, their actions in their commitment to the Armed Forces and the American people begins as a choice to serve a country and ultimately becomes a way of life which is often isolating because few will ever truly know the amount of sacrifice that is made.
A veteran does not expect praise. It is not in his making. A Veteran does not require that you stop him on the street and say thank you. His motivations are not from our approval. A Veteran stands with his head held high regardless of those whispering and talking during the raising of the flag, those without hand to heart are not a distraction to him. The words to our National Anthem are seared into his heart, and when the trumpet sounds a soldier feels it in his soul, the very images of his months and years of battle forming in the forefront of his or her mind.
An American Soldier fights with the hope and desire that those he or she serves will take up the call of action in their own purposeful ways so that the efforts of all are united for a greater cause. A soldier does not expect civilians to take up arms, but seeks to promote action in others by their sacrifice. To honor a Veteran is far more than a passing thank you or a hand to heart in song – it is by the life you chose to live in service of the same country so many have and will die for.
In his 2011 Veteran’s Day Speech Obama addresses how we can truly respect and honor our Veterans when he said, ” See, when our men and women sign up to become a soldier or a sailor, an airman, Marine, or Coast Guardsman, they don’t stop being a citizen. When they take off that uniform, their service to this nation doesn’t stop, either. Like so many of their predecessors, today’s veterans come home looking to continue serving America however they can. At a time when America needs all hands on deck, they have the skills and the strength to help lead the way.”
This is how we can honor our Veteran’s – by allowing them to continue to be the leaders that they have been trained to be. To acknowledge and heed their leadership, listen to their experiences, understand their directives, and to humble ourselves to their guidance and passion for our communities. Veteran’s are an integral part of who we have been able to become and the moment we disregard that by not lifting them up and respecting their voices and continued actions – this is when we dishonor their journey.
Veterans like my father and my great-grandfather never stopped serving – and there are hundreds of Veteran’s within this very community who continue to be a part of action whether by sitting on decision making committees, boards, or in community involvement for events and changes. These Veterans are crafted and experienced leaders and it is our duty to promote their continued service in all that they do.
I believe all Veteran’s here today will agree with me that to be respected as a Veteran means they are given the opportunity to continue to be the leaders they were born to be. As heads of households, companies, farms, and organizations – whether young or retired – it is our duty to see to it that we honor our American Soldiers by recognizing and supporting the very mission they have purposed their lives for; to serve and protect us.
Let us allow them to do that in our every day life, let us lift them up in their ability to lead, and let us never forget the ultimate sacrifices they have made not only to protect us but to take action in all things for our greater good.
They are those who put their lives on the line for us. What better leaders can be found than they?
To those who have served, who have given their lives, and to those who have taken the oath and will follow in brave footsteps …. we honor you – we honor you today and all days in all the ways that we choose to accept the leadership and loyalty of your courageous lives.