Commentary: Recognizing veterans who served with honor

Paul Valencia, a reporter for Clark County Today, served in the United States Army from 1989 to 1992. Photo courtesy Paul Valencia
Paul Valencia, a reporter for Clark County Today, served in the United States Army from 1989 to 1992. Photo courtesy Paul Valencia

Paul Valencia shares his experience as a veteran and looking up to fellow veterans

Editor’s note: Clark County Today reporter Paul Valencia, a U.S. Army veteran, has updated a column he wrote for Clark County Today in 2018. He appreciates all veterans and thanks all for their service.

It is the most meaningful word to describe my service.
Was I a great soldier? No. A good one, not great.
Was I an honorable soldier? Oh yes.
And that matters.
I remember the recruiting and the enlistment. I remember taking the oath. I remember, just months after graduating from high school, heading to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. I took that trip alone.
Soon enough, I’d make new friends.
Today, all veterans are my friends. Even the ones I do not know. Because we all have a connection.
We raised our right hands.
We took that oath.
We served.
On Thursday, several schools in Clark County honored veterans at assemblies. It reminded me of a ceremony I attended many years ago at Cascade Middle School. There was a band, a choir, and a video that gave me chills. For a few minutes, I forgot how old I was and I wanted to re-enlist.
Every veteran in attendance received a personalized certificate of appreciation. We also were treated to brunch. Later, some of us were guest speakers in a class.
I met a new friend, too, who had a special story to tell. When he came home from serving in the Vietnam War, it was a difficult time for service members. He never imagined that one day he would be celebrated.
That day, though, he said he wore his U.S. Navy hat out in public for the first time.
As the years go by, I am even more proud of my service. Part of that is simply maturity. I served for three years, leaving the Army when I was 21. I never went overseas. I never saw combat. I supported the mission. In the rear with the gear, so to speak.
Because of that, for many years, I just did not feel worthy to be considered a veteran. I’m certainly not as important as my friends who went to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
I certainly did not want to compare myself to any soldier who served after Sept 11, 2001.  Those are the men and women I look up to, after all. Not me, the guy who served at Fort Drum, N.Y., and Fort Lewis from 1989-92.
Don’t get me wrong. I was always proud of my service. I just did not want to be thanked like the “real” soldiers.
As we age, we hope to get wiser.
Which is why my service means more to me now. The Army — as well as the Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard — are all teams, working together for a mission. There are big roles. There are little roles. And all roles make a difference, provided those roles are fulfilled in an honorable fashion
Still, I hold a special place in my heart for the veterans who did go into harm’s way. When I enlisted, I knew it was possible I could be sent into dangerous duty. I trained for it. I was ready. At the same time, in the years leading up to my enlistment, it was relatively peaceful.
Which is why I am so proud of our volunteer military, especially these past 22 years. Every person who enlisted after Sept. 11, 2001 knew that it was a near certainty that he or she would be in danger.
Dear God, I love them.
For years, though, I would sometimes shy away from standing up at an event when a speaker asked for all veterans to stand. Again, I just wasn’t sure I was worthy, not compared to those who served in combat.
But then a veteran I admire convinced me that all veterans should stand and be recognized when we are asked. Because the rest of society needs to see how many “regular” folks have served. That act does need to be recognized, especially with an all-volunteer military.
I will always appreciate 1989-1992 — my time in uniform.
Whatever era, whatever role, we served.

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