by ADAM GRUENEWALD
Honoring and supporting the U.S. military at home and abroad should remain a ever vigilant priority for the entire community.
The fourth annual Yellow Ribbon Honor Banquet celebrated and reinforced that idea on Friday, May 17.
About 125 people packed the Wilkommen Park Pavilion for the event, which included several speakers and ceremonies, including a performance by the St. John’s School students.
Above all, though it recognized the families of SSGT Amanda Boehne, LCPL Cole Benkowski, SPC Cole Klaustermeier and PFC Cody Storms, who represent those deployed service members from the NYA area.
Guest speaker Major General Larry Shellito, who is currently serving as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, was among the founders of the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program.
In his speech, Shellito recognized veterans of WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War and others.
A Vietnam War veteran himself, he shared some of his experiences in coming back.
Returning home to Fargo, N.D., he was greeted by a small group of family members.
“Then I went out and thought I’d have a good time,” he said, recalling meeting a young woman. “I said I’d just come back from Vietnam. She said ‘Oh, you’re one of those’… Within two weeks I learned never to talk about it. And I didn’t talk about it for 25 years, unless I felt safe.”
For Shellito, he found that safe place through veterans service organizations and also through the Minnesota Army National Guard, of which he was a member from 1973 to 2000.
What hasn’t changed over those years, he said, is that U.S. military might remains strong.
“Every other country that thought they would go toe-to-toe with the United States, they said we cannot beat them, we cannot defeat them,” he said.
Referring to the Vietnam War, Shellito said there is one weakness to the U.S. military, which remains the same today.
“The Achilles heel of the United States military… that keeps us weak is the hearts and minds of the American people.”
Shellito encouraged those in attendance and all citizens of the United States to keep supporting the U.S. military through any way they can in sending members off, taking care of their families and welcoming them home.
“It is a community mission to make sure they are supported,” he said. “Stop and think about what would be our next mission be and what would be the things that make Norwood Young America a role model. The whole premise of the Yellow Ribbon is care and helping those that need help.”
Shellito was certainly encouraged by the attendance at the banquet and efforts of NYA members.
“You have saved lives, you truly have saved lives,” he said. “When you come back home, you’d be surprised how something as simple as a thank you is just phenomenal.”
NYA Mayor Tina Diedrick too, thanked the families present and the service members for their efforts.
“Our freedoms are protected and defended by the sacrifices that your service members make and their families,” she said. “I just want to tell you how proud we are of them, on behalf of the City of Norwood Young America, and how much that we love you and bless you and we are here for you. The Yellow Ribbon committee has done so much to make that and feel that as well. We reach out as a whole community to support you.”
MC David Elling added he was grateful for the service of the current volunteers of the U.S. military.
“They have done it with incredible pride and honor,” he said. “They did again and again and again. They are truly amazing. Where these young people’s service ends, ours begins.”
There are still 68,000 young men and women currently serving in Afghanistan, so the job is not yet done, Elling said.
“We have one sacred obligation and that’s to equip and prepare the young men and women who are going to protect us,” he said. “And when they come back to take care of them and their families. I sincerely pray that we never forget that responsibility of what we have to do.”
The NYA Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Campaign meets every second Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the NYA City Hall conference rooms.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/NYABeyondtheYellowRibbon, http://nyabeyondtheyellowribbon.weebly.com, or www.BeyondTheYellowRibbon.org.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]