Over the course of my work life I have carried a number of titles. Today, some of you know me as "president." In an earlier career, my titles included "skipper" and "commander." More recently, it has been "dean," and "doctor." However, none of these is more important to me than that of "veteran."
I want to share some of my first-hand experiences that earned me the title of veteran, not for sympathy, but rather as examples of the fact that the toll of service often can't be calculated until years after separation.
Two decades of my early life were spent serving our country as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. We moved frequently and I was often away from my family for holidays and special events too many to count, including the birth of my first daughter. I was at sea rescuing Cuban refugees when she was born. At least twice I was gone for a year at a time.
Having seen combat in Vietnam, I brought back a number of "souvenirs" whose effect wouldn't be felt for years later. I've had to deal with health issues such as lymphoma, neuropathy and diabetes thanks to Agent Orange, the loss of hearing from too much time in search planes, and arthritic feet from hundreds of hours on the steel decks of ships. My experiences, unfortunately, are not all that unique.
Painful as some of the after affects of my military service have been, any feelings of regret or loss have been more than offset by the satisfaction that comes from knowing that my service has helped to save lives, enforce laws, and defend freedom. I am sure most veterans of all eras agree. Serving in the military isn't just a decision to go into harm's way, or to experience the "romance" of adventure in strange lands.
If you haven't been a member of America's armed forces, it may be difficult to understand why remembering veterans is such a big deal. For me, it has to do with understanding the full cost of service. It is recognizing that those in the military, whether for a few years or a career, are accepting a way of life that requires considerable sacrifice, both in the moment and, often, into the future. What is different today from when my generation was in uniform is the commitment to helping those veterans who are returning to a civilian world that will never be the same.
On this and every Veterans Day, as the beneficiaries of their service, let's strive to fulfill the obligation we have to recognize, thank and support those who willingly said "sign me up."