Friday, June 19, 2009

Wis. Veteran with Gulf War Illness Reconized by U.S. Sen. Feingold for Service

A speech by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

(Washington, D.C. - Saturday, June 19, 2009) - Thank you, Al, for that introduction. You gave me my most recent tour of the Fort earlier this year, and, as always, I was so impressed by every aspect of this terrific installation. I’m so pleased to be with all of you to celebrate Fort McCoy’s 100th anniversary. It was wonderful to hear from Colonel Chesser, Major General Sholar, and especially from Colonel McCoy about the history of this Fort and its founder. It truly is an honor to be in the presence of you and your family here.

We are here today because of Robert McCoy. Military installations are sited in different places for many different reasons. In the case of Fort McCoy, it was because one man looked at this tract of land – at woods and pasture that most wouldn’t have given much thought to – and saw something else. Robert McCoy saw the potential for this land to train service members to defend our country. With his own military experience, he knew this could be an ideal place to put an artillery camp, and he began buying the land to make that vision a reality.

The story of this Fort is the best kind of American story, where determination, strength of character, and commitment to duty win the day. Those are values we prize as Americans, and nowhere are they more evident than in our service members. These men and women make those values their life’s work, and each, in their own way, affects the course of history, just as Robert McCoy did. It’s those values, and those men and women, past and present, who we celebrate today as we celebrate Fort McCoy.

This Fort has contributed so much to our nation’s defense. It has played a major role in training field artillery units for deployment in World War I, again helped units deploy in World War II, served as a major training center for the Fifth Army preparing for the Korean War, and was a major mobilization site during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. And, of course, today Fort McCoy supports the training of more than 100,000 people a year and has prepared more than 84,000 military personnel from 49 states and two territories for mobilization and demobilization since September 11, 2001.

All that has been done right here, in this corner of the state that Robert McCoy surveyed more than 100 years ago and saw the potential for something much more. In Wisconsin, we are tremendously proud of Fort McCoy and all it has accomplished. And today the Fort is playing as important a role as it ever has, serving as the only major installation located in the north-central US. That is a significant role to play, and a significant responsibility to bear as you train our nation’s service members. You carry out that duty with an unwavering commitment to excellence. I’m very pleased that Fort McCoy has received significant funding from the stimulus legislation passed by Congress earlier this year to modernize existing barracks and build new housing. This support is not only well deserved, it is long overdue; it will help make life just a little more comfortable for those who sacrifice so much while serving our country.

You offer state-of-the-art training to those about to deploy, including the 32nd Brigade Combat Team that recently deployed to Iraq. I spoke at the send-off for the 32nd Brigade, and frankly I had never been more moved in my career than I was to be in front of those I believe it was 3,200 courageous men and women. It was an honor to say a few words to them, and it’s wonderful that they could be trained right here in Wisconsin at this top-notch facility. They could have no better preparation for their deployment than the training you offer at Fort McCoy.

Wisconsin has such a strong tradition of military service and that’s something we are very proud of here in this state. On this past Memorial Day, I visited the Forest Hills Cemetery in Madison, where some of our Civil War soldiers are interred. Being there was a profound reminder of the power of the individual stories of all who have served; how they inspire us, and how they fill us with gratitude for their service. Wisconsin offers countless such stories, from those who rest at Forest Hills to others who fought World Wars in the theaters of Europe and the Pacific, who deployed to Korea and Vietnam, who served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and who serve today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These stories are as unique as each individual, but they are united by the values of determination, strength of character and commitment to service that characterize our military as a whole. One story I came across recently really struck me, because it was an unsung story of service from World War II with some unlikely circumstances.

I received a letter from a woman in Texas, asking me to help recognize a courageous group of young women who, during the darkest days of World War II, served their country as Women Air Force Service Pilots, through what became known as the WASP Program. As part of that program, from 1942 to 1944, more than 1,000 women towed targets for air-to-air gunnery practice and ground-to-air anti-aircraft artillery practice, ferried aircraft, test flew airplanes, instructed male pilots, and flew every other type of mission Army Air Force male pilots flew, all within the Continental United States.

Some lost their lives in the line of duty. These were women of what so many have called the greatest generation, who served as our country’s first military women aviators. While the program was shut down when Congress wouldn’t grant the women military status, they paved the way for the women service members who proudly serve in the Armed Forces today. Their dedication and commitment to duty when the nation needed them, even when they failed to get recognition for so many years, is a moving story of service to our country.

Nineteen WASP members were from Wisconsin, including two surviving members: Elinore Pyle of Merrill and Ethel Sheffler of Appleton. I was pleased to cosponsor legislation, which the U.S. Senate has passed, to award a gold medal in honor of the courageous Women Air Force Service Pilots for their military service.

So many stories of service like these are here in Wisconsin, close to home. Another Wisconsinite I’d like to highlight grew up near here, close to Fort McCoy. Anthony Hardie grew up in Onalaska. Many know Anthony from his outstanding work as the Executive Assistant for Legislative, Public and Intergovernmental Affairs with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Anthony served with the U.S. Army from 1986 through 1993, including service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Somalia, several additional operations in Africa, and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during the Haitian boatlift refugee crisis. He was a highly decorated Staff Sergeant, the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Humanitarian Service Medal, among many others.

Of all his medals, he is most proud of his humanitarian service medal, which he received for his service aiding Haitian child refugees. Anthony’s record is an inspiring combination of old-fashioned commitment to duty, along with a new set of skills that is needed as we combat the threats of the 21st century.

Those skills were critically important as he translated for Haitian refugees, and as he trained Senegalese peacekeepers to serve in Liberia.

And his commitment to duty was central to his decision to serve in the Gulf War, even when he could have stayed home.

When Anthony did come home after the Gulf War was over, he worked with Representative Tammy Baldwin, sharing his expertise in veterans and military affairs issues, as well as other areas. Then Ray Boland, who is here today, appointed Anthony to work at the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Anthony’s decision, after so many years of service, to dedicate himself to serving other veterans, is a testament to his outstanding character. It is fitting that members of the State Assembly recently introduced a resolution honoring Anthony’s outstanding service to our country.

Anthony has also lived for nearly two decades with Gulf War illness. He has been a leader in ensuring that our government acknowledges the impact of this illness and moves forward with determination to find treatments. He has also worked with my office to enact legislation ensuring that all veterans are informed of the care and benefits which they have more than earned. Anthony has said that "taking care of each other is what makes the military strong," and our nation is certainly stronger because Anthony Hardie has dedicated his life to military service and military veterans.

Through the generations, that commitment to duty always endures. Now a new generation is coming up, and I have been tremendously impressed by their commitment to service as well. As a U.S. senator, I have the privilege of nominating young men and women to our service academies, and I am always impressed by the candidates we see. In the fall of 2005, I nominated a young man named John Campion of Green Bay to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. He was accepted and is now a midshipman expected to graduate in 2010. I mention this young man not only because I was impressed by his qualifications, but because he has a focus on international cooperation that I think will be critical to our security in the 21st century. He is studying Mandarin and traveled to China last summer and is doing so again this summer. He also was recently awarded a highly prestigious Truman Scholarship. And later this summer, he will be going to the Horn of Africa with a group of midshipmen for a journey with both humanitarian and training goals. With his strong focus on international cooperation, John is poised to make an outstanding contribution to the Navy, and to our security.

Anthony and John exemplify the kind of warriors we need to face the threats of the future. In this new century, we face myriad new threats that, as all of you know, don’t completely resemble the threats of the Cold War.

The major strategic gap in our 21st century defenses is not a missile gap or a gap in military personnel and hardware measured against the armies and arsenals of another state. The major strategic gap is a deficit in the strength and variety of resources we must bring to bear on the asymmetric threats of today, particularly terrorism.

An effective 21st century national security strategy must include enhanced multilateral diplomacy and strengthened mechanisms to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Our strategy must also encourage participatory, transparent and fair government around the world, and promote accountability and the rule of law. That’s because these are key American principles, and because ineffective, repressive, corrupt and unresponsive governments can provide breeding grounds for extremism that threatens our country.

That is why the work of service members like Anthony Hardie, caring for refugees and training peacekeepers, is so important. And why the focus of a midshipman at the Naval Academy on maritime cooperation with China and India is potentially so valuable.

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, I’m heartened by that focus, and by those critically important skills.

In this new century, while we need a more modern strategy, we will also draw our strength from something that is timeless: the Armed Forces’ fierce commitment to service. The military’s devotion to serving and protecting our country is as important to our security as any strategy we could employ. We are of course so fortunate that so many brave Americans answer the call to duty, and go on to serve our nation with such distinction.

In Congress, I will continue to work to see that our country repays some small measure of that devotion by supporting service members after they come home. I’m proud to work on a number of efforts to improve service members’ transition to civilian life, and to ensure that they get the benefits they were promised.

I think that’s our duty to all you who have served, and we must uphold it, as our service members uphold their duty to defend the United States of America.

In this new century, we celebrate the contributions of Fort McCoy, and the Wisconsinites, then and now, who have worked to strengthen our security. I thank everyone here at Fort McCoy for your tireless efforts to defend this nation, and to give your fellow service members the state-of-the-art training they need to do the same.

It has truly been an honor to pay tribute to the vision of Robert McCoy, and the dedicated men and women who have brought that vision to life over the last 100 years. I know I’m joined by everyone across our state as I congratulate Fort McCoy for 100 years of service to our nation.

Thank you.

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