Less than 1%: Why this is a statistic that should matter to us all.
I was raised by a World War II veteran who flew B-17 bombers and have always held a great respect for our nation’s military. I grew up imagining what is was like for an eighteen year old kid flying missions over Germany when it was estimated that the average crewman had only a one in four chance of completing his tour of duty. My dad Bill never talked a lot about those days, but he did share with me that the hardest thing he had ever done in his life was to clean out the lockers of his friends who hadn’t made it back from a mission and to write the letters home to their families.
During my time in office I was blessed to form a lasting bond with the men, women and families who selflessly serve daily to protect the rest of our freedoms. Augusta is home to Fort Gordon and is a proud military community where citizens fully understand the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make on our behalf. The unique bond between our military and civilian community has been recognized as a model for communities throughout the nation and in 2011 I was honored to sign the first Fort Gordon Community Covenant, a mutual commitment of support by the Army and local communities to soldiers, other service members and their families. As my relationship with our service members and their families grew stronger the magnitude of the fact that less than 1% of our nation’s population volunteers to willingly protect the freedoms we all hold so dear, but often take for granted, began to make a deeper and deeper impression on me.
In May of 2012 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as a panelist, along with Mayor Annise Parker of Houston and Mayor Alvin Brown of Jacksonville, at the first Robin Hood Foundation Veteran’s Summit aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. During the panel discussion I focused on the outstanding work that the Augusta Warrior Project, the national model for warrior care now being deployed throughout the nation through America’s Warrior Partnership, was doing to provide care to veterans in and around Augusta. I also made the point that based upon all that these men, women and their families had done for our nation it was, and is, my firm belief that we as a nation have a moral obligation to meet the needs of our veterans as well as those who are still serving our country.
Since exiting office I’ve become Chairman of the Augusta Warrior Project board and had the opportunity to recently emcee the America Warrior Partnership’s Annual Veteran’s Symposium here in Augusta. I am still inspired when I meet both veterans and service members alike and simply hear the stories of the many adversities they’ve faced and, more often than not, overcome. Some of the stories are heartbreaking in their candor of what its like to deal with the issues of being the spouse of, the parent of or the child of a warrior. The stories of wounded warriors and the impact on their lives of the scars, some seen and some unseen, they bear from battles fought in far off lands often bring tears to your eyes. Yet all of these brave men and women I’ve met through the years have openly expressed how proud they are to have served their country.
In the end, I consider myself extraordinarily blessed to have served as the mayor of a city fortunate enough to be the home to a military base and to be a part of a community with a true appreciation for our nation’s military. Over time the strong bond I’ve forged with our service members and veterans has made me come to realize we owe them a debt of gratitude that we can never fully repay. Its for that reason that I always keep at the forefront of my mind the less than 1% of our nation’s population who volunteer to don the uniform in service to our country and why I try to say thank you to them every chance I get.