Dan Williams of the American Legion Shares his thoughts on Veterans Day
Never in the 239 year history since declaring our independence, have so few fought on behalf of so many, for so long, when so much is at stake. Today we have 1.3 million men and women in our combined military services and an additional 850,000 reserve personnel. We have 319 million people living in the United States. Translated, that means that less than 1% of this Nations’ population serves it in uniform today. In terms of our Veterans, who range from our WWII veterans to today’s Afghanistan and Iraq war Veterans, there are nearly 23 million veterans in the U.S. today compromising about 7 % of the overall population .
Put another way, the smallest force we have had is serving the largest U.S. population we have ever had at a time of unprecedented challenge in our world. There are challenges being presented to U.S. leadership and our Nation on nearly every continent in 2015 and 2016 is just as uncertain. A few examples to illustrate my point: We are still in our Nations’ longest War in Afghanistan, we are battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we have forces in the Ukraine and on bases in 74 countries around the world. China and Russia are challenging us on land, space, the Oceans and in Cyber space. Climate Change may yet challenge the whole world. The task for all of us, and in a very unique and personal way, the task facing our servicemen and women and our Veterans, is daunting.
So, today, we pause and reflect on this unique population, and we honor those Americans who have served all of us and who continue to serve as Veterans in their communities. We remember those who have been called to service in faraway places, to serve for months or years, often with outcomes that are unclear and often returning home to a Nation that has forgotten why they were sent to places that few can even find on a map. Many of our Veterans left their families and homes and found themselves thousands of miles away, on foreign soil and often in the face of a determined enemy. Some paid the ultimate sacrifice and those of us lucky to make it home often return home with memories that need to be reconciled over time as we reintegrate back into our families and communities. Many years ago a personal friend, SGT James Sapp who landed in Europe on D day and survived after watching nearly all of his comrades pay the ultimate sacrifice in the year he was there, told me that everyone who fights and returns home comes home wounded and some of those wounds are visible….but everyone remembers. Many of us know that to be true.
It may surprise many of you to know that Teller County’s population of Veterans is roughly 20% or nearly 1 out of 4. Why are there so many of us is such a small place? Its simple…..we feel like we belong here, we are welcome here, we thrive here, our skills and maturity are appreciated here…..and Teller County should be very proud of that.
So today, in this Mountain Place, in our towns and communities and unincorporated Teller County, a place nearly 3500 Veterans and their families call home, on this Veterans Day…we say thank you to those who have served and thank you to those who continue to defend us on the edge of the realm in an ever changing global environment. Our thankfulness is sincere. For perspective, the United Nations data base shows that world populations are growing by 74 million people a year, we are at over 7 billion people today and by the year 2050 we are projected to have a population of nearly 10 billion people. Our resources are finite. Clean water, air, sufficient food, fossil fuels, our fisheries and forests are just a few aspects that will be under duress. Maintaining order, defending our borders and vital U.S. interests around the world will only get more critical and will fall squarely on the shoulders of those who choose a life of service. As these resources become scarcer and our populations become larger, there will be those in the world who will simply try and take them from the rest of us without regard for the larger global community….and new Veterans will be born in attempting to restore or keep order and peace. So today, we say thank you to all Veterans wherever they may be. To those Veterans who call Teller County home…a very special thank you. To the County and its communities who embrace them…..a heartfelt and sincere thank you. Veterans live in Teller County because we feel comfortable and welcome here. We find the peace that we have so long defended here. We find friendships and relationships we never had the time to cultivate. Our skills and abilities are employed here either as volunteers or employees in local government and in businesses. Organizations like the American Legion, the VFW, the Purple Heart Society, the Special Operations organizations and countless others help focus our community efforts. We provide money to our youth for scholarships, we raise and lower the flags on holidays such as this one, on Memorial Day we collectively visit and honor every Veteran’s grave in Teller County from the Indian Wars to the present by placing an American Flag on the gravesite and giving thanks, we visit older veterans at our Veteran’s Homes, there are 5 in Colorado, we march in our community parades in positions of honor and are saluted….that is appreciated more than you know. We are invited into our schools to teach our children what our Nation’s flag means….and then donate and raise them on their flag poles while our children solemnly watch. We help to reintegrate our recently returned war veterans, we care for our wounded and for our widows. We try and explain why folks should hire Veterans, Veterans whose resumes are often filled with acronyms little understood but whose abilities and talents are proven and deserving of a chance. We are your neighbors and friends, we still care and we still serve….and I would argue…we still fight for our Country….just a smaller piece of it, a County a City or a community. We still fight for principals, we help our elected officials remember why they too chose a life of service, we are patriots still ready for the call….we still care and we still matter and we walk with a quiet confidence and humility that is instantly recognizable.
So today, on Veterans’ Day, a day designated to honor people who have served in our Armed Forces, people and citizens of our great Country who have earned the right to be called a Veteran, We say thank you, we are grateful, and proud of them. Each and every one of you probably knows one, some of you are Veterans yourselves and I thank you for your service. For those of you lucky enough call a Veteran a friend, I think you know that your life has been enriched and how much your friendship means to them. Thank you for celebrating this Veterans Day and for taking the time to walk with quiet heroes, to listen to their stories, to shake their hands, and to look directly in their eyes and to say thank you and mean it.
Colonel (Retired) Dan Williams
Dan is a 30 year Army Veteran, Apache Pilot and former brigade commander with multiple combat tours, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. He returned home to Teller County last year after retiring from the U.S. Army and commands the American Legion Post 1980 in Woodland Park, is a member of the VFW and is the Teller County Planner. He lives with his wife Suzan, also 28 year Army Nurse Corps Veteran, on their ranch near Cripple Creek and is proud to call Teller County home.