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Your letters: Veterans are the real stars

Television commentator Ben Stein wrote several years ago, "The real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to the road north of Baghdad. He approached it and the bomb went off and killed him. A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it -- just as it exploded. He left a family in California and left a little girl alive in Baghdad."

In a celebrity-obsessed culture where shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "American Idol" generate large followings as well as create a celebrity status for the winners, it is important to remember just who the real "Stars" of America are.

Veterans Day is a time to honor not just the "Stars" that Stein describes, but, in fact, all of the outstanding men and women who served in the Armed Forces since this countries founding more than 234 years ago. Not all veterans have seen war, but a common bond that they share is an oath in which they expressed their willingness to die defending this nation.

Perhaps most significant in preserving our way of life are the battles that America does not have to fight because those who wish us harm slink away in fear of those currently serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps. Both active and reserve components have earned a reputation of being the most professional, efficient fighting force with an ability to provide humanitarian support when and where needed.

The valor that defined warriors from previous generations continues today. Thousands of people lined the streets of Fitzgerald, Georgia, Oct. 6, to pay tribute to Senior Airman Michael Buras. A member of an Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, Airman Buras made the supreme sacrifice on Sept. 21, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He died at age 23 because of wounds inflicted by an IED. He leaves behind a wife and 1-year-old daughter.

We must be there to support not just the families of the fallen, but also the loved ones of those still deployed and those who return permanently changed by the wounds of war.

While we are happy to express our appreciation for our veterans, true appreciation is expressed through deeds -- not words. If you're an employer, give extra weight to the experience and skills of the sailor, airman, marine-turned-job-applicant. Veteran's preference is a requirement for government jobs, but it is also smart business for the private sector as well.

And don't underestimate the power of simply saying thank you to veterans that you encounter. There are approximately 23 million living Americans that have earned the title, including those who continue to serve in uniform. In Wadena County alone, more than 200 National Guard Soldiers were deployed to combat areas. This number does not include the active duty service members currently serving or who have served in the armed forces. Wadena County has experienced its share of joy and grief. I remember the sorrow and extreme pride we felt when our own National Guard soldiers were deployed and when they returned the overwhelming sense of patriotism.

According to recent U.S. Army statistics, more than 665,000 active-duty soldiers have deployed for a year of combat in the Global War on Terrorism and nearly 300,000 active-duty soldiers have deployed twice or more. DoD recently estimated that nearly 40,000 U.S. service personnel have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan since hostilities began.

America's veterans continue to make great sacrifices for their country. Those costs have often included long separations from their families, missing the births of their children, freezing in sub-zero temperatures, experiencing the extreme heat, losing limbs, and, far too often, losing their lives.

While America owes these heroes a debt that cannot be fully repaid, showing our appreciation is the least that we can do. As the Wadena American Legion Post 171 Commander, I am calling on all to assist me in serving veterans and their families every day. Whether its welcoming veterans home from deployment, volunteering at the local VA hospital or assisting with the Family Readiness Group there is no shortage of opportunities to assist those who have given so much for their country.

In spite of the sacrifices that nearly all veterans have made and the horrors that some have experienced, the overwhelming majority are proud to have served.

Some have said "a star is born" or "stars are created" -- I say that to become a "star" you must be willing to be a roll model. We create stars in this country or heroes because they remind us of something greater than ourselves. Something we would like to be. The United States of America represents freedom and democracy throughout the world and an opportunity for a better life. Although we do have our flaws, people around the world are daily willing to risk everything, even death, to come to this country. The veterans of this great nation have created and continue to maintain that stability, giving us our birthright: freedom.

Thank you for your support may God bless America and God bless our veterans!

Mike Ittner

Brainerd (formerly of Wadena)