Weekly Column of Senator Lamar Alexander - Veterans Day

For the week of November 14, 2005

Posted on November 10, 2005

November 11, 2005 marked our 52nd Annual Veterans Day Celebration— a day to honor America’s 25 million living veterans. This year, as we celebrate and honor the men and women who fought for us in two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, we especially celebrate our newest veterans who have returned from service in Iraq. One year ago, on Veterans Day, I was at Camp Shelby, Mississippi for the departure ceremony for the 278th Armored Calvary Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard. The 278th is a Knoxville-based regiment with squadron headquarters in Athens, Kingsport and Cookeville and 30 armories throughout Middle and East Tennessee. About 3,000 of the 4,000 members of the 278th had just finished five months of training in Mississippi and then left for Iraq. Since then, I have had the opportunity to visit with our troops in Iraq, and some of our wounded Tennessee veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. There were so many thousands of Tennesseans serving in Iraq and Kuwait that I almost felt “at home” when I visited there last March. My wife, Honey, and I were greeted at the Kuwait airport by Chris Rimel, an Army reservist who is publisher of the Dyersburg News and co-publisher/editor of the Dyersburg State Gazette. We had dinner with the 844th Engineer Combat Battalion, based in Knoxville, which includes more than 500 Tennesseans. One of these reservists was Sgt. Amanda Bunch, a nursing assistant at Asbury Place in Maryville, where my mother and grandfather lived. The school superintendent from Athens, the president of the Lexington Rotary club, and three Blount County deputies were all among those serving in Iraq with the Tennessee National Guard. I may have felt “at home,” but “no place here is entirely safe” according to Lt. Col. Don Dinello, who commands the 844th. A few days earlier a patrol had discovered explosives on a bridge over which his soldiers might have traveled. Thankfully, the explosive device was disarmed before anyone was hurt. In Baghdad I ate lunch with three marines who were recent high school graduates from Savannah, Manchester and Tullahoma. Their mission is to guard the U.S. Embassy. I asked what a United States Senator should know about their work. “Not much to know, sir,” said Andrew Pottier of Savannah. “They shoot at us and we just shoot them back.” I was struck by the courage and dedication of every soldier I met there, just as I was when I recently visited two Tennessee soldiers recovering from injuries they had suffered on the battlefield in Iraq. Both had been joined by their wives and families. One told me of his unit’s operations to disrupt terrorist activities near Iraq’s northern border with Syria. And now, just over the last few weeks, the men and women of the 278th have completed their mission in Iraq, returned to Camp Shelby and gone home to their loved ones. Last week, I was able to speak to the Commander of the Regiment, Colonel Dennis Adams, and welcome him and his soldiers home. The 278th claims its roots in the pre-Revolutionary War militia that defended East Tennessee settlers from the Creek and Cherokee Indians. It takes its motto “I volunteer, sir!” from the Tennessee militiamen who fought in the 1846 War with Mexico. We are proud of them and what they accomplished. Since they went to Iraq one year ago, that country has experienced two successful national elections, one for new leaders and a second to accept a new constitution. This Veteran’s Day, we celebrated the 278th and all the Tennesseans that have fought for us in Iraq and every war. We are grateful that they went across the ocean to fight so we could be safe here at home. And we are grateful that members of the 278th have come back home. We pray for the families of the men and women we have lost and for the soldiers who are still fighting to keep us safe and free.