Towns show support for Soldiers
August 20, 2008
A standing-room only crowd filled the Cameron University Theater in Lawton, Okla., to see the Army Community Covenant signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
The covenant, a symbol of the commitment of local residents to care for Soldiers and their families stationed at Fort Sill, drew praise from local leaders across political party lines and from small town mayors to state leaders.
While some thought the presence of the Secretary of the Army was the highlight of the ceremony, the male Soldiers in attendance might have thought differently. The Soldiers in attendance from the basic training units visibly perked up when Lawton's own Lauren Nelson, Miss American for 2007, came in to sing the National Anthem.
While most Army posts have held community covenants signing ceremonies with their local communities, Fort Sill's neighboring town went one step farther. They announced two new programs to help Soldiers and their families at the ceremony:
The Southwest Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition focuses on children. It's a program designed to improve the physical fitness and mental acuity of children living in Lawton, Cache, Elgin and Medicine Park. A who's who list of medical professionals, other professionals and hospitals sponsored this new program.
The Partners for Patriots program focuses on the education needs of Soldiers and their families. The partnership was formed by Cameron University, Great Plains Technology Center, Central Texas College and Fort Sill. This program stresses the warrior's mental and emotional well being through education. The program is intended to help Soldiers in need through tutoring and other assistance with their education goals.
The Lawton High School chorus showed their support for Soldiers by performing, just three days since the start of the school year, a patriotic medley for the ceremony.
Oklahoma's lieutenant governor, Jeri Askins, was one of the speakers at the ceremony. She endorsed the concept of the Community Covenant and said, "By it's mere name, tells us it's about coming together, as one, in a promise: A promise to work for the same goals, have the same mission and understand that we're all playing for the same team."
Askins pointed out that supporting Soldiers should come naturally to all the towns around Fort Sill because, "There's not a community in Southwest Oklahoma that has not benefited from their close ties to Fort Sill."
The team concept was extended by Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army, during his comments. Geren compared England under the pressure of the German air force during World War II and the present-day U.S. He agreed with the quote from Winston Churchill who said, "Never have so many owed so much to so few," about the English pilots who fought off their enemies while the country built its strength. Geren pointed out that today, active duty Soldiers, National Guardsmen, Army Reservists and their families make up just one percent of the U.S. population.
Geren stressed the importance of deep ties between the military and civilians in light of the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"This is the third longest war in our nation's history. It's the third longest behind the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War. For the purpose of this occasion, it's important to reflect on the fact that this is the longest war we've ever fought with an all-volunteer force. Every single Soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or coast guard is a volunteer ...
"Every man or woman wearing a uniform is a volunteer, and their families are volunteers as well. Their families are an integral part of that partnership."
Local mayors, John Purcell of Lawton, Larry Toma of Elgin and Nolan Watson of Cache also addressed the crowd.
"We're really here today to honor our Soldiers," Toma said during his remarks. "Our Soldiers is what this day is all about. All of us today have to take a back seat to them. The Soldiers are the backbone of this country ... They serve this country with honor and dignity, and they deserve a day like today everyday."
Lawton and Fort Sill have a proven record of mutual support and respect. According to several speakers, the roots of cooperation got their formal start 27 years ago when the Lawton-Ft. Sill Cooperative program was started. The co-op program formalizes relationships between military units at the fort and various community organizations.
The Fort Sill commander thanked the local leaders for their support. According to Maj. Gen. Peter Vangjel, the spirit of civilian and military cooperation goes back before the Oklahoma Land Run opened up the land outside the military reservation to settlement.
"Fort Sill is both proud and grateful as we acknowledge the long-standing partnership with Southwest Oklahoma that has truely stood the test of time," Vangjel said. "We can trace our partnership as far back as 1901 when Fort Sill housed 29 future Lawtonians as they waited to go claim their land.
"While Lawton depended on Fort Sill for nearly everything in its early years, today Fort Sill depends on the support of Lawton, its economy and the surrounding communities in a host of areas," Vangjel said.