This morning - 11 NOV 2010 - I had the honor of speaking at the Chelmsford Veterans' Park for their annual Veterans' Day ceremony. Below is the prepared draft of my remarks. I deviated a little from my notes, so the actual speech was slightly different...but I think you can get the drift.
SFC Benari Poulten
11 NOV 2010
VETERANS' DAY REMARKS
Exactly one year ago today, I stepped off a C-17 in Ali-Asaleem in Kuwait with Baghdad, Iraq in my rear view and Fort Dix, NJ in my sights. For me, for my unit, for many of the men and women with whom I served, we were done.
Our deployment was over. For others we had just left, their deployment was ongoing. For others still, it was just beginning…so it goes in times of war.
So this Veterans’ Day is especially profound for me. In 2003, I spoke here as a brand new young Vet on behalf of my father who was deployed overseas. Last year, my father spoke here - as a slightly older Vet - on my behalf. And this year, I am grateful that we are BOTH here - safe and whole - as I speak on behalf of all those who cannot be here.
As Veterans, we know that when our country calls, our answer is simple: “Here I am.”
Veterans know the answer to the question: “What can YOU do for your country?”
Veterans know the cost of freedom.
And Veterans know there are many who sacrificed ALL so that so many of us could have so much…and who will never have the opportunity to hear the thanks of a grateful nation. But they are not forgotten. YOU have not forgotten. And as long as we all continue to gather here and remember, they will NEVER be forgotten.
I’m often asked, “Why did you sign up? Why did you join? What’s the reward?” It’s certainly not the money. There are easier ways to make a living. It’s not for the travel – although Iraq is very nice if you love the beach and hate the water. For me…well, I’ve been attending Veterans’ Day events here at the Chelmsford Veterans’ Park for as long as there has been a park, long before I was even old enough to wear the uniform. These Veterans were always like family.
As my father said when he speaks of “from generation to generation,” I am a third generation Veteran: my mother’s father, an Army Vet of WWII; my father’s father, a WWII Navy Vet; and of course, my father. I am personally part of a remarkable lineage, a link in an unbroken chain that extends back to this country’s roots – of men and women who have always lined up to put it all on the line. And I am humbled by their deeds and their dedication.
I think of my father working in a Combat Support Hospital in Kuwait at the beginning of OIF, where every single casualty and wounded service member passed through their dusty tents. And how he would sound TAPS as bodies in flag-draped coffins were loaded onto the plane for their final trip home – knowing that he had been in the Army longer than some of those bodies had been alive.
I think of my grandfather serving on the destroyer O’Brien – a ship which was kamikaze’d and burned to the water line but STILL made its way back to port under its OWN POWER … thanks entirely to the will and resolve of those men who just wouldn’t quit. How he sat waiting on a ship in the Pacific, part of a planned invasion force, as the bombs which would end the war were dropped over Japan – only to be turned around and sent home…always believing that the greatest force of destruction ever unleashed upon the world had saved his life.
This is what it means to be a Veteran. Veterans hear the clarion call – not just today, but EVERY day. Veterans do not ask, “How much SHOULD I give,” but instead, “How much CAN I give? What more CAN I do? What more NEEDS to be done? I will do it.”
Veterans know that when things are bleakest, when the night seems darkest, we must somehow reach down deep and find that extra strength, that added resolve to keep going. And we find that strength through you – all of you here today. You – the families and friends, the loved ones, the ones back home who support and care for us all. YOU are the lights that shine brightly to help guide us through the darkness so that we may find our way home.
And for those who do not make it home, we who are fortunate -WE carry their legacies home with us. We carry on their fight. And we strive to always live up to the ideals and the high standards they have set for us. We only hope that we can honor their memories as they have honored us.
I know what MY reward is. My reward is that I get to proudly wear this uniform. I get to say that I am an American Soldier. I am an American service member. I am a Veteran of the United States of America. And I am humbled and honored to be counted among their ranks.
To all those here, to all those who have served and to all those who continue to serve, I thank you and I salute you.