May 2009 has been an incredible trek - and it's not over yet.
We witnessed the largest mobilization of Oregon National Guard troops since World War II, celebrated our inaugural Oregon Military Families Appreciation Day, and stood watch over the progress of the 2009 Veterans' Agenda in the Oregon Legislature.
Leaders from throughout our Oregon have put aside party differences and worked together on a comprehensive package of aid and assistance for our military families and veterans. We are working hard to recast veterans' policy at every level of government.
It is a testament to the commitment of Governor Kulongoski and the 2009 Oregon Legislature that so many of our priority bills have already made it through both chambers: we will work tirelessly to finish what we have started.
The truth is, few of us involved in putting the agenda together believed our recommendations would be acted upon so quickly. All Oregonians should be proud of the work accomplished, even as we steady ourselves for the heavy lifting ahead.
People have stepped up because they know it's important: taking care of the men and women that took care of us is the right thing to do. Veterans of all eras, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and ongoing conflicts have distinct needs. If we maintain focus and seek collaborative solutions, we can help our veterans enjoy the blessings of the liberties they so courageously defended.
Despite the most challenging economy in several decades, Oregon is striving to support the men and women our nation sent to distant shores and unforgiving deserts on our behalf. And step by step we are striving to keep faith with our veterans.
Public ceremonies are just as important as our policies and programs; sometimes more important. Rituals evoke the spirit of service - through these symbolic events we steward the heritage and history of heroes from all ages.
It was for that purpose that Oregonians in towns large and small gathered together this past weekend. Through Memorial Day activities across the state, we honored the sacrifice of our fallen and wounded heroes. Most of these events are themselves now history, but one Memorial Day ceremony is still to come.
Join us at the Afghan-Iraq Freedom Memorial (on the ODVA grounds in Salem) on May 30th at 1pm. Twice yearly, at Memorial Day and Veterans' Day, we pause in the silent shadow of courage to recognize the sacrifice of our peers - knowing that even more names will soon be etched into history.
This Memorial Day will mark a beginning. The names of all Killed In Action from Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom are read aloud as a group. It is time for all of us to recognize the enormity of what each of these names represent; a moment for self-examination - an opportunity for reflection on whether our Oregon is worthy of its price.
On a personal note, this month has been among the most challenging in my professional life. The mass mobilizations stir both frustration and guilt. We are sending men and women into harm's way; and while we have made great progress, much remains to be done and many more sacrifices will be made.
As a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq, I remain conflicted. I wish I could waive a wand so that nobody had to go overseas - so that no new names were added to the Afghan-Iraq Freedom Memorial - ever. And yet, every time a group of airmen or soldiers deploys, I secretly wish I could go with them.
While I don't know if I will deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq again, I do know that we all have a duty to ensure these people and their families are taken care of before, during, and after deployment. I also know that veterans of all eras have earned the assistance so many of them now require.
Many of us will never again answer the call of service overseas; all of us are duty-bound to find opportunities within our own communities to serve. Let us reawaken the spirit of duty, honor, and country - let us learn to honor the gifts so freely given on our behalf.
Together we can do better; together we can keep faith with the men and women that we ask to defend our freedoms; and together we can work for an Oregon - an America - worthy of their sacrifice.