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Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

Backing words with actions

Posted Wednesday, November 7, 2012, at 10:18 AM

As November begins, our thoughts turn toward the holidays ahead, the first being Veterans Day on Nov. 11. It is fitting that on the first of this month, we celebrated receiving a one-million-dollar federal grant for the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock. The money will expand capacity in the cemetery, realign shifted tombstones and re-sod a large portion of those hallowed grounds.

At that event, I invoked a quote from President John F. Kennedy. "As we express our gratitude," Kennedy said, "we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." The quote is from a November 1963 proclamation, traditionally issued by the White House to set the date for Thanksgiving. Kennedy would not live to see Thanksgiving that year, but the words continue to hold true almost 50 years later, particularly as they relate to our veterans.

Veterans Day allows us to focus on Americans in uniform, those who serve today, as well as those who have completed their service and transitioned into civilian life. It is in that transition from military service that I feel Kennedy's words become especially poignant. While we all see the gratitude shown to our Armed Forces when they deploy and the celebrations that accompany their return home, it is the quieter transition to domestic and civilian life that can cause the greatest difficulties. Perhaps that is the time we can show our appreciation the most, by helping veterans adapt to everyday life outside of the military.

With reduced combat forces overseas, more men and women are back home looking for work and trying to care for families and loved ones. This can be a struggle, particularly with the financial stresses of a sluggish national economy or the lingering after effects of war. This past summer, the Pentagon announced that military suicides had begun to outpace combat deaths.

It is a terrible trend that we've been working to stop for the past few years in Arkansas. This not only affects those who have faced combat overseas, but also those early in their military careers who have never seen deployment abroad. Leaders of the Arkansas National Guard work within their ranks to seek out troubled soldiers and airmen, spreading the message that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. State agencies, like the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, and private groups, like AR Vets, provide easier access to locating employment, counseling and other support for servicemen and women. Every year, businesses go the extra mile to ensure that Guard members can train and deploy and still have their jobs waiting when they return. These are the kinds of acts that bolster our words of support.

Kennedy's words came exactly 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln first declared the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday of thanksgiving in the hopes of uniting a country torn by Civil War. November 11 became Veterans Day after the armistice ending World War I. As we celebrate both holidays this month, let us remember not only the service that defends us at home and abroad, but also the support our veterans need when they return home.

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