PHOENIX, Ariz. - Members from the Arizona National Guard participated in events across the Valley during Veterans Day weekend 2012, as a way of giving back to a community that show its appreciation to those who serve and who have served.
“Volunteering and participating in community events creates the opportunity for our armed forces to have a lasting, positive impression on our future leaders – children in the community – and the public opinion of the military,” said Chief Warrant Officer Anthony Sheedy, a technical support manager in the Arizona National Guard.
Speaking as a military member at community events, Sheedy feels so strongly about this concept that he founded a non-profit organization called ‘Veteran Speak’, which enlists servicemembers who wish to speak and participate at public functions as military representatives.
“I created ‘Veteran Speak’ with the purpose to educate America's youth about veterans and service members and to serve as a positive role model for future generations,” Sheedy said. “Our concept is to teach the kids who we are, what we do, and why we serve.”
Kicking off the weekend festivities, Sheedy attended a military appreciation event at Finley Farms Elementary School in Gilbert and talked to kids from kindergarten to 6th grade about military life and what it means to be a member of the armed forces.
Citizens expressed their gratitude for service members’ presence at events throughout the weekend, as John C. Maas, principal of Finley Farms, pointed out the importance of military members’ involvement – particularly with young people in the community.
“Having these guys come out to events like this, especially where a younger audience is concerned, helps them better understand what it is to be a person who serves his country, that its not just a Playstation game character, this is a person who makes the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms,” Maas said.
The need for community involvement between military personnel and citizens is echoed by military leadership as well.
“It’s important to keep that connection with the community in letting them know we appreciate their gratitude towards us and we are here to serve and protect them,” said Brig. Gen. Alberto Gonzalez, Assistant Adjutant General of the Arizona Army National Guard.
Gonzalez, along with members of the 108th Army Band, participated in an event commemorating veterans at the McCormick-Stillman Train Park in Scottsdale. Gonzalez emphasizes the citizen-soldier aspect of being a Guardsman.
“We also need to show that in the Guard, we aren’t just soldiers,” Gonzalez said. “These soldiers work civilian jobs as policemen, fire fighters and teachers, and are members of the community as well.”
On Monday, more than 60 Guard members participated in the Veteran’s Day Parade in Phoenix and more than 15 volunteered at the Phoenix Rescue Mission that evening to serve dinner to homeless veterans.
“It is a tragedy to have those who served in the military to be living on the streets," said Sgt. Crystal Reidy, a public affairs specialist with the 123rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment and a coordinator for the Phoenix Rescue Mission event. "These men should be honored all year long, but at the very least we should serve them a hot meal on Veterans Day."
Maas, whose father served in World War II, points out the importance as well, of reminding citizens what Veterans Day is really all about.
“Too many times, students will relate this to just being a holiday – a day off from school,” Maas said. “It’s important to keep the values of Veterans Day alive with young people since patriotism isn’t necessarily something that’s taught within a school curriculum.”