Veterans, Family Members Feted at Airport 'Salute'

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2006 - The director of the National Security Agency stepped uncharacteristically into the spotlight here today to join the United Service Organizations in honoring veterans, who he said set the example for today's troops, and the family members who stand by them.

Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander told participants at the third annual "Salute to Veterans and Military Families" at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport that the country owes its veterans a tremendous debt.

The USO of Metropolitan Washington and the Maryland Aviation Administration co-sponsored the event.

Alexander, the son of a World War II veteran, praised veterans of past wars who "salvaged liberty for the world." He called the upcoming Veterans Day observance "an opportunity to reflect on that debt owed every man and woman who has taken up arms to defend our country."

The United States will always be proud of the contributions made by its veterans of every military service, as well as the Coast Guard and Merchant Marines, the general told the group.

While all the services may have different core values, he said their overall philosophies are similar and consistent and provide inspiration for today's armed forces. "These values drive our servicemembers to the great success that they realize in their joint endeavors to combat terrorism around the world," he said.

Americans "are deeply aware of the continuing struggle and sacrifice of our military members" waging the global war on terrorism, Alexander told the group.

"Americans have died to secure freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "They gave their lives to advance freedom and to protect America. This nation will forever remember their sacrifice as we enjoy the freedoms they have secured for us."

Alexander thanked the USO of Metropolitan Washington for its continued support of the armed forces. He expressed special appreciation for the USO's work at BWI Airport, where it operates a gateway lounge for military travelers, including those returning from overseas deployments.

Tim Campbell, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, praised the lounge as "one of the finest USO facilities in the world," serving "more military personnel than any other USO location."

Elaine Rogers, USO-Metro Washington president, shared Alexander's sentiment as she recognized the extraordinary sacrifices military members have made through the country's history.

She acknowledged this month's observance of Military Families Appreciation Month and thanked military families, including many who make up her legions of USO volunteers, for the service they, too, provide. "Family members are truly the wind beneath the wings of military members," she said.

Rogers called today's event a way to pay tribute to the service of family members and military veterans. "It's very important to say that the American public can never forget our veterans or our military families -- especially now," she said. "We tend to get so busy in our everyday lives, but it's important that we take time to recognize them and let them know that we won't forget. It's critical."

"It's a big thank you," agreed Shaunna Van Buren, USO-Metro Washington's airport service manager. "Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifices."

Pam Buchanan, wife of an Air Force retiree whose daughter and son-in-law both serve in the Air Force, said it felt great to see veterans and servicemembers receive the tribute they deserve. "It just sends chills up my spine to see the flag and people supporting the military," said Buchanan, also a USO volunteer.

Frank Viscardi, a 20-plus-year veteran who served in World War II and the Korean War and now volunteers with the USO, said he was moved by today's tribute.

After talking to Alexander following the ceremony, Viscardi marveled at what he heard. "I told the general that since 1941, today was only the sixth time that a person ever came up to me and said, 'Thank you for serving,'" he said.

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