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NEWS | Nov. 5, 2008

Be proud of past, present veteran heroes

By Lt. Gen. Gary North Commander, 9th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Central

Each Nov. 11, the United States observes Veterans Day to pay tribute to those men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation through military service.

America's veterans are honored for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice on behalf of their nation. We celebrate the accomplishments of millions of brave Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coastguardsmen who served valiantly in wars and conflicts during the 232-year history of our country.

While we normally focus our attention to honor those veterans of past wars and bygone eras, it is important to remember at the 7-year point in our current and sustained combat operations, those men and women who are currently serving our nation in locations around the globe. The times and warfare tactics may have changed, but the veteran, regardless of his or her place in time, is still a hero.

Currently, there are more than 26,000 Airmen deployed in support of operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility; additionally, 70 percent of all Airmen are participating in operations that support the CENTCOM AOR in one way or another.

One modern-day hero is Staff Sgt. Patrick Lape, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller assigned to Task Force Bayonet in Afghanistan. When his team came under sniper and rocket propelled grenade fire, the sergeant called in close air support to engage the attackers. As a result of the RPG attack, Sergeant Lape momentarily lost his sight and hearing, and received shrapnel and burns to his left shoulder, face, and eye. Yet, after regaining his orientation, Sergeant Lape disregarded his own wounds and helped a critically injured Soldier move to a covered location and administered life-saving first aid.

Another is Staff Sgt. Nestor Albalos, an aerospace medical technician assigned to the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. Sergeant Albalos recently helped provide emergency dental care training to Afghan dentists. As a result of this training, Afghan dentists are establishing free field clinics, complete with infection control standards in place, to offer emergency extractions and routine cleanings to their fellow countrymen.

Sergeants Albalos and Lape are just two examples of the thousands of veterans serving around the world today. Stories similar to theirs are common throughout our military. Servicemembers, such as Sergeants Albalos and Lape, have devoted their lives toward something greater than themselves -- the United States of America, and those freedoms we have all sworn to support and defend. These veterans, like tens of millions of others before them, have chosen a path to protect and defend our nation and fledgling democracies throughout the world. Veterans Day is time for all Americans to honor those who currently serve and those who have gone before us -- to let them know we honor, respect and appreciate their sacrifices, their courage and their call to duty.

The message is a simple one to all veterans today: America is proud of you -- thank you for serving -- and thanks to your families for allowing you to serve and for being strong alongside you while you served or currently serve our nation.