10 November 2008

Thank a veteran ... please!

Tomorrow, 11 November, is Veterans Day. How will you make it more than just a day off from work or school? Or, if you don't have the day off, how will you make it any different from a typical day in America? I propose nothing fancy - just find a veteran, shake his or her hand, and say thanks. That's it. Too easy.

According the US Census, there are currently over 26 million veterans in our nation, so finding one should be pretty easy. Perhaps you'll notice them proudly wearing a VFW or American Legion hat or lapel pin. Perhaps they'll be standing tall in their old uniforms. Perhaps they'll just be walking past you on the street. Find one, shake his or her hand, and say thanks.

I have one particular veteran that I'd like to mention here: my First Sergeant, now retired, Mike Vitale. Mike was my First Sergeant when I had the priviledge to take command of A Company, 46th Engineer Battalion in late 2002. He planned to be in the company only a few more months and then enjoy his well-earned retirement. But when it seemed certain that the Army would soon issue us orders to deploy to Kuwait in early2003, Mike voluntarily stopped his retirement process so he could prepare to deploy as our company's top non-commissioned officer and my right hand man.

Our company did get those orders and deployed in February 2003 and Mike was instrumental in making sure every Soldier was fully ready for the uncertainty they faced. When we arrived in Kuwait, he quickly focused our Soldiers on the tasks at hand - constructing new kabals in the desert, building air strips, and various other construction tasks around the country. When OIF began and we rolled north, Mike ensured our Soldiers and equipment were ready for anything. He was a true leader and our Soldiers greatly respected him in large part because he clearly cared about them.

Because of his diligence throughout our deployment, we returned home with every Soldier we deployed with. I owe Mike a tremendous amount for the success that he brought to our company. We had a group of outstanding, dedicated Soldiers of all ranks for that deployment, but Mike's leadership was instrumental in bringing them all together for success.

When we returned home, Mike decided to pursue other interests in his now even more well-deserved retirement. I felt guilty even bringing up the subject of staying in a while longer to continue to lend his leadership to our Soldiers - he had earned retirement. And he took that retirement to Florida where he lives now. I am deeply indebted to Mike and priviledged to call him a friend. Thanks again, Mike, for all you've done.

Mike's just one example of the incredible people who serve our nation. He served it for over 20 years in uniform. Some served for only a couple years. Regardless of the time, they all have sacrificed for us in one way or another. The least we can do tomorrow is shake a hand and say thanks. Veterans are key to making and keeping this country great!

Happy Veterans Day Mike, former Gator soldiers, and all my buddies out there who have served and are still serving. Proud to serve beside you!

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