It is fitting that we are celebrating National Guard Day on another important civic holiday: Flag Day. This past weekend, I had the privilege of listening to a veteran speak about what our flag means.
Command Sergeant Major Mike Urban joined the Army National Guard in 1970 and spent most of his 41 years of military service with the 109th Mechanized Infantry Battalion.
In Bosnia, he said it was not until the American flag arrived that the massive slaughter of innocents was stopped.
In Iraq, he said, “I saw the true meaning of courage as many soldiers went into harm’s way every day with temperatures reaching 140 degrees in the most dangerous place on the planet at that time.”
And in America, he described the folded flag as it was removed from each coffin and reverently presented to survivors. “I saw how carefully it was grasped by the loved one and held tightly to their hearts. It was as though the flag when it was folded encased the very soul of the soldier it had just left.”
Of the many outstanding Pennsylvanians honored in this chamber, few are more deserving of our admiration and appreciation than the citizen-soldiers of the Pennsylvania National Guard, who are willing to lay their life on the line to preserve our freedom.
Sen. John Pippy and Sen. Mike Stack are among the distinguished members of this elite freedom force. And although today is dedicated to honoring the National Guard, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and applaud all members of the General Assembly who served in the military. They include 6 state senators and 21 state representatives.
Today, we pause to salute them and all their fellow Americans in uniform – past, present and future.
Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to form a militia, led by Ben Franklin. Two hundred and fifty-six years later, Pennsylvania’s Guard is one of the biggest, and it is the very best.
Our National Guard is an expertly trained, highly dedicated volunteer force, prepared and passionate about defending freedom around the globe and protecting citizens here at home.
More than 20,000 soldiers and airmen now serve in the Pennsylvania National Guard, and more than 600 are deployed in critical areas in the world. Our Guard has been supporting NATO air operations in Libya. Twenty countries were involved in this effort. A Pennsylvanian led it.
Since 9/11, our Guard has been sent repeatedly to combat zones and disaster areas, adding up to 25,000 individual deployments. In carrying out their dual mission, most have been deployed overseas two or three times, and have participated in Hurricane Katrina clean-up and flood relief here at home.
Whether our Guard members are on a peacekeeping mission, cooperating in counterdrug operations, or responding to a tornado’s devastation, they are ready and willing to serve and to sacrifice, and to fight for a flag they love and protect so fervently.
But the price of liberty is steep, and the debt is often paid with some of our best and brightest young lives. Since 9-11, 36 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many more have been seriously wounded.
We cannot forget their sacrifices, nor can we forget our legal and moral obligation to care for them.
We must fully fund our Veterans Homes and fortify the Educational Assistance Program. Our state’s fiscal pressures may be great, but our obligations to our veterans are greater.
Just as the threads of our flag hold together the red and white stripes, and the white stars on a blue field, our military heroes bring together and demonstrate our finest qualities as Americans. They knit our diverse nation together, making it one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
One of these distinguished heroes – a leader among leaders – is Major General Wesley Craig, our 51st Adjutant General. General Craig has served our Commonwealth and our country for nearly four decades. During his time as Commanding General of the 28th Infantry Division, 8,000 soldiers were mobilized and deployed to the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He commanded 15,000 troops from eight nations in a multi-national training mission in Egypt in 2005.
It is my distinct honor to present the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, Major General Wesley Craig.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson