Nation should ‘Fulfill the sacred trust’

In the days leading up to and including Veterans Day, I will have the privilege to connect with Oregon’s veterans at parades, pancake breakfasts, and ceremonies across the state.

It has been four years since I returned from my third and final deployment to Iraq. My journey began when I walked into a Marine Corps recruiting station on Sept. 10, 2001 — less than 24 hours before this country would be unfathomably altered.

By the time I was in basic training, our nation’s war drums were beating with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. When I reported to my first duty station in San Diego, my unit had deployed the week prior. I threw my personal effects into storage and joined them in Al Anbar, Iraq.

When I raised my right hand to serve, I wanted to be tested and part of something larger than myself. Only now do I fully appreciate the depth of history and tradition I joined. Across all generations of veterans, there is a shared bond whether they served stateside or in places like Iwo Jima or Inchon, Khe Sanh or Kandahar, Normandy or Najaf.

My decision to join the Marines also meant that I had enlisted my family to serve. My wife and parents endured the anxiety of three deployments and held down the home front. They taught me that our military families are the backbone of this nation’s forces. While they do not wear the uniform, there is no question they serve with quiet strength and unwavering support.

Now safely at home with a young family of my own, I am keenly aware that we still have thousands deployed in Afghanistan. As we close out the fight overseas, our veterans begin the fight at home to access healthcare, continue their education, and find work with a mission. The wars will end, but the effort to serve our veterans is just beginning.

Do not underestimate or overlook our returning veterans. They have hard-earned skills and are ready to lead here at home. And for those most impacted by their service, understand their tenacious spirit and resiliency. They deserve nothing less than the best in care, resources, and opportunities — not as a charity, but as an investment.

A robust veterans’ benefits system is essential, but we know our veterans and their families will thrive in Oregon only if we develop, nurture, and sustain a community-wide effort. Good intentions are not enough. Together, we must take the sea of goodwill that exists for our veterans and turn it into measurable results.

This Veterans Day, I’ll be raising a toast to the new greatest generation of veterans and all those who led the way for us. Please join me in giving thanks to all veterans and those who are still serving around the world. Let us honor them on this day and recommit to partnering together throughout the year to fulfill the sacred trust of caring for all those who have borne the battle.

Cameron Smith served three tours in Iraq as a Marine officer and is the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (503-373-2388).

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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