CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – November 11 is a day that stands out in history books and in the hearts and minds of many Americans. At first it signified the end of World War I, and was known as Armistice Day. Years later, at the end of World War II, it became known as Veterans Day.
Today it is a day to thank and remember all the veterans and Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors who have fought and died for freedom.
At Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, Soldiers deployed here were invited to four main events that provided Soldiers the opportunity to honor their fellow veterans and those that came before them, while also getting the opportunity to relax and enjoy the day.
Service members congregated at the dining facility to pay their respects to the many that serve and have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The three chaplains of Multinational Battle Group East conducted a ceremony commemorating veterans and thanking all service members. During the Prayer Breakfast, one Soldier shared his story.
Staff Sgt. Richard Rodgers, Boone, Iowa, senior crew chief, supply non-commissioned officer, Task Force Aviation, joined the Air Force in 1981 during the Cold War and was in until 1993.
“If we went to war and there was an invasion, who will protect my friends, my family and loved ones? Those service members before me did not back down… they paid the price with their lives for others and so would I. I would die if need be to protect our way of life, our freedoms and our independence,” said Rodgers, now a member of the Iowa Army National Guard.
Rodgers was given the chance to fight for the freedoms he holds most dear and to fight for those he loves the most in 2006 after reenlisting with the Army. Rodgers volunteered for a deployment in Iraq.
There are so many Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors like Rodgers, service members who volunteer to deploy to the dangerous parts of the world where they come under fire on a daily basis. There are so many Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors that volunteer to go on humanitarian aid missions to help others in any way they can. There are many service members that will raise their hands and say “Here am I, send me.”
This is the reason why the Cooks from the Valley donate their time to go to different bases and camps to cook and serve steaks to deployed service members.
Harris Ranch, Coalinga, Calif., donated thousands of steaks to be sent to various bases throughout Europe for this special Veterans Day event.
“It's a great way to say thank you, in a small way for everything that you guys do,” said Jessica Peters, 29, a San Diego resident and one of the chefs who participated in the event.
“We couldn't possibly do this for a better crowd,” said Jeff Peters, 52, Bakersfield, Calif., whose participation at Camp Bondsteel marked his 17th barbeque with Cooks from the Valley.
“I think I just ate one of the best steaks, ever,” said 1st Lt. Roberto Rivera-Barada, Camuy, Puerto Rico, executive officer, A Company, 1st Battalion, 296th Infantry Regiment, MNBG E, Puerto Rico National Guard.
Five cooks prepared the steaks with a handful of Soldier volunteers, including Command Sgt. Maj. Gilbert Arocho, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, command sergeant major, MNBG E, and U.S. Navy Fleet Master Chief Petty Officer Roy M. Maddocks, Jr., senior enlisted advisor for U.S. European Command.
“Veterans Day isn't just about thanking those who serve, it's also about thanking our families and those who support us,” said Maddocks prior to presenting each cook with a coin.
After the Soldiers filled up on steak and potatoes they were invited to watch and participate in a Soldier talent show.
During the talent show, each performer sang two songs and the audience voted for the winners. Pfc. Dolores Harris, North Little Rock, Ark., supply specialist, Task Force Aviation, MNBG E, Arkansas National Guard, won first place with a performance that brought the crowd to its feet.
Among the standout performers was 1st Lt. Walt Austin, Griffin, Ga., intelligence battle captain, MNBG E, Georgia National Guard. Austin performed two songs of his own composing, including “Fallen Angels”, which recounts an experience from a previous deployment.
On Jan. 20, 2007, “Easy 40”, a UH-60A Black Hawk, was shot down just outside of Baghdad. All twenty people on the aircraft were killed, said Austin.
“I was the assistant (intelligence officer) for the 1-131st Aviation Battalion, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade at the time, which is the unit that Easy 40 was part of,” said Austin.
“Fallen Angel” is the radio call that goes out when an aircraft goes down, said Austin. “I wrote that song ("Fallen Angels") shortly after the downing of Easy 40, and had never played it for anyone else since I wrote it,” he added.
“When I arrived in Kosovo and saw so many people from Arkansas that I had deployed with to Iraq, and saw this opportunity to share with them this song, I couldn't pass it up,” Austin.
“And it was so fitting that this talent show was on Veteran's Day. It was the perfect opportunity to share this song with those who suffered that loss much more so than I,” said Austin.
Austin won third place for his performance. He plans to use his winnings toward a barbeque on Jan. 20, in memory of those Soldiers who lost their lives in 2007 when Easy 40 went down, said Austin.
It is never enough to just remember. The Soldiers at Camp Bondsteel do way more than just remember the past; they continue living for the future.
As part of the Veterans Day activities, a 3-on-3 basket ball tournament was held that weekend. A total of seven teams played in a single elimination tournament. The tournament lasted two days, with Team Aviation winning the final game against Postal 15-13.
Morale Welfare and Recreation events such as basketball help the Soldiers that are deployed bring back a little bit of home and a reminder of why they are here, said Renee Favors, program and entertainment specialist, MWR, MNBG E.
“I am a Soldier sworn to protect the helpless at home or abroad, to fight for my country to defend the Constitution, to provide Americans the opportunity to live free. This is my life,” said Rodgers.