Thursday, July 16, 2009

Both Worlds

Tonight, I had the opportunity and pleasure to cover an event that celebrated the opening of a wean to finish hog facility in Knox County, Illinois.
The Links and the Higgersons are great people, very gracious and welcoming and established in the area as farm families who have farmed and raised livestock for several generations.
This new facility, which is operated by Aaron and Nathan Link and Jared Higgerson, is a big venture. I talked to Aaron and Jared and they expressed confidence that the U.S. pork industry will make a comeback, as it has done before in times of trouble, and be strong again. The two new buildings are proof of their faith in the future.
On the way to the farm, I passed a member of the Patriot Guard Riders. He was riding a Harley Davidson, had a black leather jacket with what appeared to be a big PGR patch on the back. Flying from the back of his bike were two full-size American flags. He was headed south, toward Galesburg.
This night was also the visitation for Illinois National Guardsman Spc. Christopher Talbert who lost his life in Afghanistan July 7. That was, no doubt, where the lone rider with the American flags was headed.
I support our U.S. soldiers and their mission. I also support our U.S. farmers and their mission. Both soldiers and farmers are vital to our freedom and our happiness. Our soldiers protect our freedom, our farmers give us food. It's a wonderful combination of people to support, let me tell you!
Knox County has a strong farming tradition and a very strong livestock farming tradition.
The area also has a strong tradition of military service. Soldiers and sailors like Spc. Talbert, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Gary Rovinski of Roseville, Army Pfc. Caleb Lufkin of Knoxville and others have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tonight I thought how much we owe to both our farmers and our soldiers and how tough these two groups are in the face of adversity.
Farmers and soldiers, although their circumstances are different, face daily trials that would make most of us either not start at all or throw up our hands and say 'enough!'
But they don't.
Farmers are the ultimate gamblers. They plant crops, buy livestock, build buildings and then see how the cards turn up. They do that because they love what they do and for others, so that we may have safe, secure, affordable food and a continuing supply of it.
Soldiers take risks of a different sort, they risk their life and limb and future happiness each day when they go out on their missions. They do that to stop the spread of terrorism or at least try to keep it from our shores, to bring freedom to oppressed people so they can make their lives better and to protect their fellow soldiers. Soldiers do that because many love what they do, they love the job of soldiering, and for others, for us, so we may have a safe and secure supply of democracy and freedom.
Tonight, as I documented the leap of faith being made by two young farmers and thought about the ultimate sacrifice paid by one young soldier, I thought how very, very lucky we are to have these people around us and what an enormous debt of gratitude we owe both.
Thank you, U.S. farmers.
Thank you, U.S. soldiers.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Why this?

"These are not the first soldiers and this is not the first war."
Those were the words someone said to me when she also told me she thought I was a little too enthusiastic about my support for our deployed soldiers.
"Don't you?" I asked.
"Yes, of course I support the soldiers but you don't have to be so - obvious - about it," she said.
The reason I am enthusiastic and passionate about supporting our deployed soldiers stems back to 2004 and 2005. I was a reporter for a daily newspaper. Our local National Guard unit deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This - along with the events of 9/11/01 - was new ground for all of us. From our managing editor down to the youngest reporter, nobody had ever covered soldiers or families in a war before.
We were hometown reporters so we knew these families very well, they were our neighbors.
It made that job harder and easier. Harder because every time we heard there were casualties and especially in the areas we knew "our" soldiers were, we waited on pins and needles to hear that everyone was safe. In an odd way, the few of us who did cover the unit almost did become part of the support group for those soldiers, part of the big extended family.
We were blessed with two incredible people who headed up the Family Readiness Group. They understood the value, even if the military didn't then, of keeping the public informed and getting the public support behind their local soldiers. They made sure we stayed informed, they hooked us up with families for interviews, pointed out interview opportunities - even for soldiers who weren't in the unit but were from the area.
I loved covering these soldiers and their families because they were then and are now so dedicated to their task. They are ordinary human beings, just ordinary young men and women, doing an extraordinary job in unbelievable circumstances. Their families are the same way, hometown people who have jobs and lives who have to wait on pins and needles for their children to return from war.
Of course this is not the first war and these are not the first soldiers but these are our generation's wars and these are our generation's soldiers and we should support them as completely as the Greatest Generation supported the young men who marched off to fight in the Pacific and in Europe.
That first deployment, all of the soldiers from our hometown unit survived, a few were wounded, one very seriously, but they all came home. They came home to parades and dinners and free beers and the adoration of entire communities. Some of them, sadly, came home to deal with the effects of PTSD and the aftermath of their deployment, the effects of which were only beginning to be addressed. The unit lost one member to suicide on Thanksgiving Day 2005. His death galvanized his parents to demand that the military take a better look at PTSD and soldier suicide. It taught everyone that just because a soldier has returned home, doesn't mean his battles are all over.
Even though I'm in a different job now, where opportunities to cover the military are fewer, I still support them through Twitter and Facebook and care packages.
Everybody needs a cause, that same person said to me another time. Well, she is right. Everybody does need a cause. It makes you feel good at the end of the day that you did some small thing, without needing or asking for reward or thanks, for someone else.
Everybody does need a cause and supporting the military is mine.