Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Veteran's Day Speech by LtCol Robert Fabian

My husband, Rob, is an officer in the Air Force and served for a year as the speech writer for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force (Gen Jumper). So when the American Legion of Drake, ND, asked Minot AFB for a speaker for their Veteran's Day Dinner, he was glad to step up. Below is his speech. (I kept it in the original format for those who might be interested in seeing one way to organize a formal speech.)

Incidentally, the Drake folks loved it and want him back for Memorial Day.


 Thank you Tom for those kind words
 And for the opportunity to join your community as we remember our Nation’s veterans
• Thank you all for having me here
 I’m honored to join your community tonight, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in nearly 20 years of military service – 24 if you count the Academy
• It’s that our communities are our nation
• Small ones, like Drake, or El Dorado Texas, where I started my career as a Lieutenant
• And big ones, like Denver or Detroit, or even Washington D.C.
• Every one is a little different – and every one adds something to the American way of life.


 Our veterans – those who have served and those who still serve, come from those communities
• And bring those differences – and the strengths that come from them – to the defense of our nation
• Poor or wealthy, urban or rural, from Maine backwoodsmen to California surfer dudes they bond together as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines
o As our Nation’s sword and shield
 Where else but in America can the son of a major aerospace conglomerate and the son of a single mother on welfare meet, bond, and form a lifetime friendship
• That’s not just an example – they’re both classmates of mine from the Academy
 Our veterans represent the strength and diversity of our nation
• And they – you - have been doing that for well over 230 years


 This day was originally chosen to honor the veterans of the “Great War” – World War I
• Armistice Day was intended to honor those who had fought “The War To End All Wars”
 But by the end of World War II, it was obvious that it needed to be broader than that –
• Honoring all who served in defense of our great Nation
 So in 1954 Congress changed the law, marking November 11th as Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars
• From our War of Independence in 1776 right through to today
 Today, we honor all those who have served their country honorably
• Been its sword and its shield for more than two centuries across the globe
• From the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Iraq
 And defeated those who meant us harm
• British troops and Hessian mercenaries, Barbary pirates and Mexican bandits, Nazi soldiers and Communist insurgents, and terrorist of every stripe
• American veterans taught them all that threatening America carries a heavy price
• And we stand free today, the major power in the world, because of their sacrifices


 And not all sacrifices have come on the battlefield
 Today we honor all those who served, not just those who saw combat
 We often forget America’s other war – the war that didn’t happen
• The Cold War against the Soviet Union
 American veterans stood in the Fulda Gap in Germany, on alert in ICBM silos and bomber bases across the United States and just down the road
• Ready for World War III on a moments notice
• So ready in fact, that it never happened
• Our enemy looked into the abyss and drew back, keeping an uneasy peace until it collapsed under its own weight
 I fought in that war myself, as a young lieutenant assigned to a missile warning radar in west Texas
• It never happened, but the threat was terrifyingly real
 I can speak to that first hand…
• One night, at about 3 AM, I sat on watch with my crew, tracking satellites and watching for incoming ballistic missiles – a little sleepy and a little complacent having been qualified a whole two weeks…
• When a meteorite, a shooting star, blew through our coverage as it fell to Earth
• Coming through at just the wrong angle and looking exactly like an incoming nuclear missile heading right for Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado – our nuclear nerve center
 I had 60 seconds to assess the condition of my radar, check the track, and fire off a warning to the Mountain
• Thankfully, two other radars, looking at different angles, also saw it and properly identified it as a meteorite
o But from where I sat, World War III had just started
• Inside of two minutes the whole thing was over and we all wound down again – a lot less sleepy and much wider eyed

 It’s a funny story today, but it underscores an important point
• While the Cold War may not have seen actual combat – it was a war – and we owe our veterans a debt of gratitude for protecting us while it smoldered
 We often hear in the news that the new generation coming of age doesn’t get it—that they have no concept of service or sacrifice
• That’s BUNK!
 Let me tell you a little bit about the young Airmen I know
 They understand discipline—they crave it
• I command a squadron of 160 Airmen, most young, many on their first enlistment, fresh out of high school
 We maintain the 91st Space Wing’s fleet of 150 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles – enough nuclear weapons to devastate a reasonably sized nation
• The standards we demand are extreme – they have to be
• These teenagers and twenty-something’s thrive on those standards
 My training flight trains all the ICBM maintainers in our Wing
• I’ve seen our trainees go from joking and goofing around on break to the speed and precision of a NASCAR pit crew while on duty, sometimes in a split second
 And I’ve seen the looks on their faces when they graduate training
• When we tell them that they have met the high standards we demand and can be trusted to work on real nukes
• They glow – no not literally, with nukes that’d be a bad thing – but with pride
• Pride in their abilities, pride in their accomplishments, and pride in their discipline
 They face challenges head on—and overcome them with flair
 During my year as the Chief of Staff’s speechwriter, I got to meet some real heroes
• For example, let me tell you about SSgt Donny Hayes, one of what we’ve started calling our “Battlefield Airmen”
• Airmen who go into harms way alongside their Army and Marine brethren to bring airpower directly into the tactical fight
• SSgt Hayes was deep in Afghanistan and the Army SOF team he was with had been taking sniper fire on and off all day
o He had a B-1 overhead, an incredibly powerful aircraft loaded down with precision weapons - but they couldn’t find any targets
 Between them, they suggested a “low level show of force”
o Now picture this: Pitch black, ten hardened SOF troops sitting dead quiet overlooking a 30 mile long valley
o Suddenly, way out, are four 200' flames coming up the valley
o Faster than you can think that B-1 blasts the sound barrier
 In the words of SSgt Hayes, it felt “like God just hit you in the head with a hammer”
o The team took no more fire that night
 They are dedicated
• Let me tell you about another young hero I ran across while serving at the Pentagon
• While I was there, General Jumper made a point of making time to personally award Purple Hearts to our wounded Airmen at Walter Reed Army Medical Center
o One, A1C Tony Pizzifred, was from right here in North Dakota
o Assigned to the 5th Security Forces Squadron at Minot AFB, he deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan
 Where he lost his left foot to a land-mine while on patrol
• His biggest concern—he wanted to stay in the Air Force
o He wanted to continue to serve

 These kids…no…these veterans, get it—and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

 I’d like to close with one story that summarizes the pride in service found in today’s military
 Some of you may have heard of Roberts Ridge in Afghanistan – a long and bloody fight to rescue trapped American soldiers
• Two of my friends were overhead providing close air support to the forces on the ground
 But they’re not the ones I want to talk about – I want to talk about SrA Jason Cunningham, the Air Force combat search and rescue medic assigned to the initial rescue team
• They had been sent in via helicopter to rescue two American servicemen evading capture - surrounded by al-Qaeda and Taliban forces
 Before they could land, his helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed.
• Suddenly, the rescuers needed rescue, and with 3 dead and 5 wounded – then- , they set about defending themselves
 Still taking heavy fire and at great risk to his own life, Airman Cunningham remained in the burning fuselage of the aircraft in order to treat his wounded comrades.
• As their positions were overrun, he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy fire to move the wounded along with them
• With bullets and grenades flying all around and mortars exploding less than 50 feet away, he continued to treat the wounded
• Mortally wounded himself, he continued to direct others in caring for the soldiers around him
 In the end, he personally saved the lives of 10 wounded servicemen – and lost his own in the process
 SrA Cunningham was awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions – the Air Force’s highest award, second only to the Medal of Honor
 General Jumper presented that medal to his widow, Theresa Cunningham
• Or, I should say, Cadet Theresa Cunningham, a member of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps
 Today, Theresa Cunningham is an officer in the United States Air Force
• She continues her husband’s legacy of service – determined to make sure that the cause for which her husband gave his life does not fail

 These are the next generation of veterans – selfless, dedicated, and deadly
• They are our future
 You, our past veterans, gave us an outstanding tradition of service and a great nation in which to live—we aim to keep it that way
 To paraphrase President Reagan – Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world, but veterans don't have that problem.
 Thank you.

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