Paul Valencia was among dozens of veterans honored at assembly
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. 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.
Friday, dozens of veterans, including me, were honored guests at Cascade Middle School for a ceremony that featured a band, an orchestra, a choir and videos that gave us 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 saw a few veterans who I met last year at this ceremony. I met a new friend, too, who had a special story to tell.
Winston Jacobson of Clark County served in Vietnam. When he left the U.S. Navy, it was during a tough time for service members, with protesters and the divisive mood of the country. He just never imagined, at the time, he would be celebrated.
Decades later, with a grandchild attending Cascade Middle School, he was invited to Friday’s ceremony. Winston received a very long overdue thank you.
Here is the kicker: Winston Jacobson proudly wore his Navy hat on Friday. He said it was the first time since he returned home from Vietnam. More stunning, it was the first time he had ever participated in an event that celebrated his service or that of other veterans.
Cascade Middle School students, you made a difference on Friday. So, too, did all the schools throughout Clark County that had assemblies to honor veterans.
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 big of a deal 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 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 17 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.
At Cascade Middle School, there were older veterans and younger veterans, plus a few present-day soldiers and airmen in attendance.
Whatever era, whatever role, we served.