REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Veteran memorials are meant to bring back memories of heroism and sacrifice.
So, with Huntsville's Veterans Memorial as a backdrop, state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw didn't have any problems encouraging his audience to think about the deployments service members and their families have endured in the post-9/11 era.
But Holtzclaw also wore a more personal memento that represents his 23 years of service as a Marine -- his combat boots.
Showing them to those who gathered on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the Veterans Memorial for the first local ceremony honoring Oct. 26 as the nationally recognized Day of the Deployed, Holtzclaw said every service member in attendance probably has mementos in the back of their closets that are "testament of the memories they have from deployments."
"If these boots could talk … they have been all around the globe in places like Kuwait, the streets of Mogadishu, Equador, Korea and Japan," said Holtzclaw, a retired chief warrant officer 3.
Holtzclaw is a veteran of two combat tours, the first in 1991 during Operation
Desert Storm and the second in 1992-93 during Operation Restore Hope in Mogadishu, Somalia. His service included tours in Okinawa, Japan; 29 Palms, California; and Camp Pendleton, California; and peace time deployments in Korea; Hokkaido, Japan; and Quito Ecuador. He retired from the Marines in 2003 after serving as the officer-in-charge of the Marine Corps Ammunition School at Redstone Arsenal.
Holtzclaw recalled two of his own deployments, one in which he battled freezing cold temperatures and another when he experienced sea sickness while on the USS Dubuque.
"We all have memories of deployments that are much worse than being cold or sea sick," he said.
"We have memories of deployments that have kept the fight from coming to our streets and our backyards. I would much rather tear up someone else's backyard than our own. We have to take the fight to the bad guys, and when we do that we are bringing hope to those oppressed by the bad guys."
But as challenging as a deployment can be, Holtzclaw said they are toughest on the families left behind.
"We had a clear mission. There was not a Monday or a Tuesday. It was today or tomorrow," he said. "Our family members had it the hardest. They don't want to watch the (television) news, but they have to watch the news … as they tried to make every day life seem normal."
American service members continue to serve, he said, because of their families at home and, for that reason, service members and their families deserve to be recognized with a Day of the Deployed. To close his comments, Holtzclaw read a proclamation announcing Oct. 26 as the Day of the Deployed in Alabama, mirroring the nationwide recognition of the day's designation.
During the ceremony, the Army Materiel Command Band and Lee High School Choir provided patriotic music; the Rocket City Marines and Young Marines presented the colors and an honorary wreath; 8-year-old Kinzer Henry read a poem written by his mother, Kiley Henry, organizer of the ceremony; bricks were presented for the memorial honoring the Day of the Deployed; and Mayor Tommy Battle read a city proclamation recognizing the day's significance.
"The proclamation says thank you to those who have served and thank you to those who have protected our way of life," Battle said. "We want to honor the families of those who have been away serving our country."
Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Lehtonen, who represented Team Redstone at the ceremony, said it was his pleasure to "personally and professionally thank all our service members and civilian team members both past and present who have answered our nation's call."
He also thanked volunteers -- such as organizer Henry and her committee, and groups such as the Sergeants Major Association, Army Community Service, Boy Scout Troop 400, the Patriot Guard and A Smile for Troops -- for making the Day of the Deployed event possible.
"Your efforts have a lasting impact on those who have served, those who are currently serving and those who will serve in the future," he said.
The event also signified the 10th anniversary since the first Alabama National Guard troops deployed in the Global War Against Terrorism.
Representing those troops, Capt. J.D. Manders said, "the reason why we serve, the reason why we fight, is to protect our families and give them the same kind of opportunities we've had."
Manders recalled the difficulties his wife Christy and his two daughters Lily and Sarah had when he deployed, first to Iraq and then to Afghanistan, with the Alabama National Guard.
"A wife is basically a single mother when her Soldier is gone. The children cry themselves to sleep missing their dad, or they have sleep anxieties," he said.
"My wife had allergies, so we had to hire someone to cut our yard. My daughters were having trouble sleeping and sleep walking. The day I arrived in Iraq, my wife called and told me how our daughter nearly burned down the house by running the microwave too long. Those are the kind of experiences they have because we're not there helping with the family."
To reach out to his family, Manders wrote "The Fairy Child," and sent chapters of the book home during his deployment. It is the story about two children coping during the absence of a parent.
"They had to be brave. They had to make the right decisions," he said. "I hoped that the story would inspire my daughters to make the right decisions and that it would distract them from me being gone.
"Now the book is inspirational to other families going through the same thing. I hope it touches these families and reaches them and inspires them to do wonderful things."