Veterans honored at events across the state

Col. Lapthe C. Flora, commander of 91st Troop Command, visit with D-Day veteran John Kessler before Virginia's Veterans Parade Nov. 7, 2015, in Roanoke, Va.(Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office)

Col. Lapthe C. Flora, commander of 91st Troop Command, visit with D-Day veteran John Kessler before Virginia’s Veterans Parade Nov. 7, 2015, in Roanoke, Va.(Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen joined Veterans Day observations across the state to honor all the men and women who served our country in uniform in the past and are currently serving at home and abroad. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 15,000 Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen have mobilized on federal active duty for combat operations, peacekeeping and homeland security missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and other locations around the world.

Governor Terry McAuliffe recognized the service of veterans past and present at the Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony Nov. 11, 2015, at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Va. Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and his wife Cheryl presented the Virginia National Guard memorial wreath to recognize the contributions of Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen. More than 15 members of the Virginia Defense Force provided traffic control and parking assistance for the event.

Williams served as the senior reviewing officer at Virginia’s Veterans Parade Nov. 7, 2015, in Roanoke. He and his wife Cheryl, Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Ferris, Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Advisor, and Col. Lapthe Flora, commander of 91st Troop Command, joined local residents and members of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets at the Veteran Meet and Greet held at the City Market Building before the parade.

“There are many examples of selfless service demonstrated by the men and women who answered the call during our nation’s wars from World War I through the Global War on Terror,” Williams wrote in his Veterans Day message. “This past weekend I had the great fortune to visit in Roanoke with veterans who served in D-Day, Korea and Vietnam and listen to their stories. Their service provides such tremendous inspiration to those of us who continue to serve today. We owe them all a special debt of gratitude for the shining example they set.”

Flora, a native of Roanoke, helped organize the parade that is now in its fourth year and recognized as one of the largest veterans events in the state. Parade participants included military units from across Virginia, military marching units and individual veterans accompanied by military, college and high school bands.

The Clifton Forge-based 29th Division Band provided ceremonial music before the parade and played the national anthem.

Across the state, Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen took part in Veterans Day observations and shared their remembrances.

Brig. Gen. Walter L. Mercer, Assistant Adjutant General – Army, was the keynote speaker at a Veterans Day ceremony in Colonial Heights presented by the American Legion Post 284, and the Robert E. Lee Post 2239 of the Veterans of Foreign War. Mercer spoke about the importance of remembering the men and women who served in the armed forces as well as those who continue to serve.

“Dedicate yourself to never forgetting all the sacrifices that veterans made for us and for all of our veterans across generations, to let them know that they live in our hearts and that we cherish their service to our nation each and every day,” Mercer said. “Their courage in the face of danger, to me shines like a beacon on future generations through times of evil and uncertainty that we live in. Their sacrifice serves as a clear warning to our enemies that we will never abandon the call of duty, we will protect our home, our families, and our way of life.”

Col. Michelle M. Rose, director of strategic plans on the Virginia National Guard Joint Staff, spoke at the Tidewater Academy in Wakefield on the significant accomplishments of women in the military. Rose was the first female Virginia National Guard officer to command a battalion in a combat zone when she led the Virginia Beach-based 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Afghanistan.

“It is important that we recognize how men and women in uniform have carried the torch of freedom all across the globe during times of conflict as well as during times of peace,” Rose said. “While there are many examples of selfless service demonstrated by the men and women who answered the call during our nation’s wars from World War I through the Global War on Terror, I want to speak today about a particular segment of the veteran population, the women veterans. Over this past year alone, we have seen an astonishing amount of recognition and progress in our military towards women service members, who make up nearly 16% of those serving in the military today.”

Col. William J. Coffin, commander of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, spoke at a Veterans Day ceremony at Fishburne Military Academy.

“Since the first shots at Lexington and Concord were fired and our Revolutionary War began, American men and women have been answering the nation’s call to duty,” Coffin said “Today we recognize and honor the men and women who have served our nation as a member of the Armed Forces. It is a day to reflect and remember the selfless service and sacrifices our Soldiers and families have made and continue to give.”

Coffin detailed the many deployments by 116th units in the last 14 years, including the more than 450 Soldiers of Task Force Normandy who are currently on duty in Qatar performing critical security missions to protect U.S. interests in the Southwest Asia region.

“The Stonewall Brigade has been an integral part of American military history and continues to be ready to answer the call to defend our freedoms overseas and to serve the citizens of the commonwealth to defend our homeland and provide relief during times of disaster,” Coffin said. “While we salute our veterans who wear the cloth of our country, we should also take time to recognize the critical importance of our families, communities and employers to our mission. Without their support, none of us in uniform would be able to do what we do, and we need to thank them all for the important contributions they make.”

Lt. Col. Rusty McGuire, commander of the Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, wrote about the importance of remembering families on Veterans Day in an editorial printed in the Virginian Pilot. November is Military Family Month.

“I no longer only think of veterans on Veterans Day,” McGuire wrote “I also think about the families who sacrificed so much, too. Veterans cannot do what they do without the support of their family, and families do not enjoy the freedom without their veterans. So on this Veterans Day, don’t just thank a veteran. Thank the family too!”

Participation in Veterans Day activities also helps educate the public about the capabilities of the Virginia National Guard.

The Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron took part in the Virginia Beach Veterans Day parade and while many former Air Force, Navy Seebeas and other veterans knew about the RED HORSE and applauded their service, it was also a chance for a new generation to learn about the unit.

“I think it is important for RED HORSE to participate in the parade first and foremost to show support for our local veterans,” said Lt. Col. J. Stock Dinsmore, commander of the 203rd. “It also creates general awareness of the Air National Guard mission that resides here in Virginia Beach.”