Arkansas GOP Memorial Day Tribute
This Memorial Day, we will honor those who have paid the ultimate price and made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. Arkansas is fortunate for many reasons, but one reason is that all four of our Congressmen have served their country through the Armed Forces. This week, we sat down with all four of them and gathered their thoughts about this important day.
- Why is it important to you that we have a day set aside to memorialize those who lost their lives in the defense of this country?
Crawford: It’s the ultimate sacrifice to give your life for another, to give your life for your country. I think one of the lessons that we learned from Vietnam was we had veterans returning, and my dad is a Vietnam veteran, and we had veterans returning to a country that didn’t appreciate their service. Whether we agree or disagree on the war, in this case Vietnam, it wasn’t appropriate in my opinion to malign the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who served because their country asked them to, and they were doing the right thing by their country. I think that’s really been the lesson that’s been learned over the years, that it’s a valuable service, and it’s an honorable service, and for those that have given their lives in that service we certainly need to respect and honor them and their families at least one day out of the year . And, certainly to me it’s an all year, all-the-time type of posture, but certainly they’ve earned at least one day a year where they are recognized.
Griffin: Well we certainly need to be remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms every day of the week, and every day of the year, we need to be remembering them, but setting one day aside is sort of an additional, annual reminder, on that day that we need to not only need to remember them then, but every day. And for those who get complacent or forgetful, that alarm clock goes off on Memorial Day, and it says, “Hey! Don’t forget to remember these folks every day of the year!” It reminds us to have reverence and respect for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Womack: Memorial Day, as you know, is set aside once a year, to honor those who have given their last full measure of devotion in defense of the country. A lot of times the event is confused with what we do in November, that is Veterans’ Day, where we honor all men and women who serve in uniform, but Memorial Day is my favorite because it recognizes and acknowledges the people who gave it all. I think it says in the gospel of Matthew, greater love hath no man than to lay down this life for his friends. You think about what the passage in Matthew says, and those whom we honor and remember on Memorial Day - that is as true a reflection of the greatness of America.
Cotton: If we didn’t remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who have given what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion in defense of America and more broadly in defense of freedom, then we might not have those same men and women defending us in the future. George Washington said the ability to get volunteers for a military is directly related to how those potential volunteers see their society treating veterans of previous wars, particularly the war dead of previous wars. And because Americans have decided to set aside a specific day, because veterans are held in such high esteem, because we remember those who have laid down their lives so that we can live in freedom and prosperity, then we can, I think, be assured, that the next generation of Americans will be ready to step forward and do their part.
- President Reagan famously said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Was President Reagan right?
Crawford: I think he was absolutely right. I think he probably was even somewhat prophetic in that we’re now so far removed from a generation who understood the kind of sacrifice it takes to preserve our country, and we obviously refer to them as the “greatest generation.” It’s important to recognize that what Reagan said was absolutely accurate, and if we’re not diligent in preserving what we have and passing it on then we can just as easily lose it, and I think that’s one of the things that service in the military teaches you, that this is not something that we’re going to have forever if we just blithely go on with no regard for the sacrifices made for us to have it and what it’s going to take for us to keep it.
Griffin: Well sure. It’s like guarding a precious treasure. No guard at Fort Knox would say, “Well I don’t have to guard because my grandfather guarded here for thirty years, therefore it’s safe.” That wouldn’t make any sense. No one would believe that. They’d say, “Your crazy. Your grandfather is no longer here, so you’ve got to guard it!” And it makes the point that we can learn from those who came before us, we stand on their shoulders, but ultimately it’s up to us to get the job done, and that includes protecting freedom and maintaining the lifestyle and quality of life that we have in the United States. So yes, we celebrate all those who came before us, but when they pass the baton, it’s up to us to win the race.
Womack: He was absolutely right. It’s passed down from generation to generation. I told these commencements on Saturday, the story of Brendan Marrocco, from Staten Island, NY, who is the only guy ever to survive a blast in combat that immediately amputated all four of his limbs, so here is a bloody torso on the battlefield, and our guys were so good they were able to save his life, get him to the rear, get him medical treatment, and the other day he’s sitting in a committee hearing with me, and I’m not lying, as I told these graduates Saturday, it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw a tear well up in this kid’s eye, and guess what? He reached up and wiped it away! And you know how he did it? He did it because he’s the first Army soldier to survive double arm transplant surgery. He wiped away a tear with someone else’s arms! When you are able to do the kind of things that we do to honor the men and women who serve our country, I don’t think you’ll ever have to worry about whether or not the country is going to be secure, or whether we will have people willing to defend her.
Cotton: Yes. Freedom is our birthright in the United States, but like any birthright it can be squandered, or it can be lost. Too many republics over the course of history have lost their freedom for us to not take Ronald Reagan’s words seriously. Or, to put it in an earlier context, Benjamin Franklin said, when leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1797, was asked “What have you given us?” And he said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” One of the central parts of preserving our freedom is fighting and winning our wars overseas or deterring those wars from happening in the first place by having a strong, robust military that’s ready to not just defeat our enemies, but also to discourage them from starting any wars or threatening our freedom to begin with.
- In which branch of the military did you serve and can you tell us a little bit about your service?
Crawford: I served in the Army, and this was back in about ’85 to ’89- roughly about a four year period. I had the experience of serving when our Commander in Chief was President Reagan. So my entire four years was under his second term, so that was a neat thing. It was particularly neat because in the job that I did, I was an explosive ordinance disposal tech, which basically that’s a bomb squad, and we did a lot of different things. One of them was that we provided service support to the Secret Service. So, I had the opportunity to work on President Reagan’s Secret Service detail several times. So that was a neat experience for a young guy.
Griffin: I joined the Army Reserve in 1996, and I’m still serving in the Army Reserve. I’ve been in almost 17 years. Of those 17 years, one year was on active duty orders. I was mobilized in 2005 to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to serve as an Army prosecutor, and during that time I was mobilized for a part of that year as JAG in Mosul, Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, and I was recently promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Womack: I was in the Army National Guard in Arkansas from 1979 to 2009, a little over 30 years.
Cotton: I served in the Army for almost five years. I contracted in December ’04, I shipped to basic in January of ’05, and I left active duty in September of ’09. I was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, Iraq in 2006. I was a platoon leader with an infantry platoon in the 101st Airborne in Baghdad, in Iraq. In Afghanistan I was an Operations Officer for a reconstruction team in the northeastern part of the country. And between those tours, I was at Arlington National Cemetery, with the Old Guard, where I performed military honor roles and ceremonies in the national capital region. And before I went to Iraq, I spent about a year at Fort Benning, or as we sometimes call it, “Fort Beginning”, since it’s the home of the infantry and the home of all the training, like the Raider School and the Airborne School.
- In America, we have an all-volunteer Armed Forces, meaning you decided on your own free will to serve our country in this way. What motivated you to serve our country through the Armed Forces?
Crawford: I come from that background. My dad was career military, and both of my brothers were in the military. Virtually all of my uncles were in the military. My grandparents, my granddad. So it was really kind of not a question for me. I was going to serve in the military, and really the only question was, was I going to make it a career? And, by the time I was 23 I had spent almost my entire life in and around military installations. And so that pretty much closely followed my dad’s experience. He was 24 years in the military, and so it was really no question for me. It was something that was based on that experience, and a kind of unity, and a kind of hero to me. That was just something that I knew I was going to do
Griffin: I have a family history, a family precedent of serving. My grandfather served in World War I, I had a number of ancestors and relatives serve in the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. I was always interested in history and the military growing up. I looked up to a lot of older gentlemen who have served in World War II, and so I always thought that I would be interested in serving in the military, but I wasn’t sure about full-time, active duty. So the Army Reserve gave me a perfect opportunity to pursue my civilian career, but at the same time have a second career in the Army, and I’ve just absolutely loved it. It’s one of the best career decisions, and life decisions, I’ve ever made.
Womack: My family has a long history of military service. My father was a retired Colonel, a brother that went to West Point, retired a Lieutenant Colonel, and I’ve got a couple sisters that were in and a younger brother that served a short hitch. But, when you go back and look at the career totals of the total number of years that my immediate family, meaning me and my siblings and my father had, its like 175 years. So that’s the first answer, a rich history of military service. The second one is a little easier, and that is two words: I went on blind faith. Blind faith, Because in 1976, when I was making the decision in college to get into the advanced course of ROTC, I had mixed opinions about whether or not I wanted to actually do it. And I asked my father for his advice, and he said: “If you go on nothing else but blind faith, it will be one of the smartest decisions you will have ever made in your life”. And as I look back on it, he was absolutely right.
Cotton: The September 11 attacks. I desired to join the effort to fight back against the radical Islamic jihadists who had perpetrated those attacks. I was in law school at the time the attacks happened, and I wanted to rush out and join right away. But, better judgment reminded me that I did not want to be making either a private’s or lieutenant’s salary with law school loans. So I decided to work for a couple of years and pay off all my student loans, and then I left for the Army. I wanted to go serve our country on the front lines. I knew that I could do my part to help my country defend itself from the people who had perpetrated the attacks and would like to do so again.
- What do you believe are some of the most significant issues facing America as it relates to our veterans?
Crawford: I think one of the hardest obstacles facing veterans today is simply re-assimilating into everyday society, and one of the things that we’ve seen, certainly since 9/11 is we’ve relied very heavily on National Guard and Reserve components to prosecute the war on terror in both theaters. And when you do that, you’re taking citizen-soldiers from their everyday lives, and putting them in a theater, here’s your mission, execute your mission and then come home. The transition is extremely difficult, and I can tell you the transition just from military life in general to civilian life is tough. But, when you have been in a hot theater, under duress, and you come back it is extremely difficult to make that transition. And so I think its important that communities understand the challenges military veterans face, particularly National Guard and Reserve components.
Griffin: I think that, first of all, the backlog at the VA is very troubling. We’ve got a Veterans’ Administration Secretary who has done a very poor job of innovating and addressing the backlogs that are facing vets who are trying to get care that they deserved and that they’ve earned. Also, I think there are budgetary challenges. We’ve got to reform some of the programs that are in our federal budget because they are putting undue pressure on our veterans and all of the different parts of the budget are inter-related, and the answer lies in innovation and reform, and we’ve got to do it.
Womack: We have serious budget issues that are so devastating that we are now beginning to see the effects in our ability to both project power and to be able to provide the adequate and necessary treatment of those who have come back having served us in uniform. From traumatic brain injury to PTSD, to loss of limb, the budget issues facing this country are so tough right now that we’re seeing strong evidence that we are in the process, the early stages of hollowing out a force which goes right to its readiness to serve our country and also to be able to provide the adequate support for the men and women who have already served. We live in a world right now that is so unstable, and so unpredictable, and the battlefield is so asymmetrical today, that this is not the time to be reducing the capabilities of our military. And that is what is going to leave us vulnerable. And that’s the biggest issue as I see it today.
Cotton: I think the most important way we can honor our veterans is to win the wars that we have started and that we remain fighting. Obviously we still have over 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, and we need to fight that war to a just conclusion, and more broadly we need to fight the war against radical Islamic jihad all around the world. Here at home, we need to honor our commitment to those veterans to ensure that, for instance, the Veterans Affairs Department is processing claims for medical care, or disability payments, or student loans, or the G.I. bill, or the veteran’s home mortgage program are all doing so with the best tools and the best resources available to them. And, finally we should just honor veterans in our community. Obviously on Monday there will be a lot of Memorial Day ceremonies, whether they’re at cemeteries or parades, it’s important to honor our local veterans each and every day, as we see around ourselves, have ways to honor our veterans, whether its saluting them at ballgames, or letting them board a plane first, or buying them a beer when you see them at a restaurant. I think every Arkansan tries to honor veterans in small, but significant ways.