By Rick Emert, Fort Carson MountaineerMay 20, 2009
FORT CARSON, Colo.-Military and business leaders from Colorado Springs, as well as servicemembers from each of the military installations in the area, joined at Broadmoor Hall Friday for the Armed Forces Week luncheon.
Most of the hundreds of servicemembers in attendance were given free tickets to the luncheon, courtesy of local businesses that sponsored the event.
Twelve outstanding enlisted servicemembers were honored during the luncheon.
"The 12 men and women that we are going to recognize ... are the finalists and are representative of all the outstanding Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from the United States, and Canada. Later in the program we are going to recognize three as the best of the best," said Ed Anderson, chairman of the Military Affairs Council in his opening remarks.
Among the 12 outstanding servicemembers was Fort Carson's Sgt. 1st Class Justin Widhalm, from the Warrior Transition Unit. Widhalm, Senior Airman Tyler Moran from the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Brown from Peterson Air Force Base were selected as the three outstanding servicemembers at the end of the event.
Widhalm said he was "very, very humbled by it - it brought tears to my eyes, actually."
Just eight years into an Army career that he thought would last 30, Widhalm is transitioning out of the Army because of injuries he sustained in Iraq.
"I always thought when I joined, when you raise your right hand and say that you are going to put your life on the line; I never thought of injuries or something that was going to end my career," he said. "My wife always said that I'd be in until they kicked me out."
Widhalm, who is president of the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club and volunteers for Share Colorado, the Bruce McCandless State Veterans Home at Florence and the Paralympics, said he was honored to be among the 12 finalists.
"I was just happy to be even named with the caliber of noncommissioned officers that were there with me. I figured it was a toss up," he said of his chances at winning in the senior noncommissioned officer category.
His wife, Jennifer Widhalm, was more optimistic about his chances.
"I told him he was going to win (May 11)," she said. "I think it's great that he gets to ... be involved in something like this."
Widhalm, who was born on Fort Carson, said the award "definitely ranks up there pretty high" in his accomplishments as an NCO, but leading Soldiers remains his greatest accomplishment.
"I still think the greatest honor I ever had was leading Soldiers in combat. That's what it's really about," he said. "People join for many different reasons, but the reason you stay in the Army and you stay in the military is to fight with the guy next to you. That's still the greatest achievement I've ever had."
The event's keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Mark A. Graham, commanding general, Division West (First Army) and Fort Carson, thanked senior NCOs from all branches of the armed services for their dedication to leading Soldiers.
"They've dedicated their lives to not only serve our nation, but also to train our young men and women who come into the Army, making sure they have the skills we ask them to use each and every day, whether it's here or somewhere else around the world or serving in harm's way," he said.
Graham drew laughter in thanking business leaders whose donations allowed so many junior-enlisted servicemembers to attend the luncheon for free.
"So many young servicemembers are here ... because sponsors allowed them to come here. Whether you think it or not, we don't normally eat at the Broadmoor, so we do appreciate the opportunity to dine here," he said.
Graham also offered an explanation of why "America's sons and daughters" continue to serve their country in a time of war.
"As I look to the young faces sitting in here in uniform today, I can simply tell you that they don't serve for profit nor personal gain, as there are many professions that provide far greater compensation," Graham said. "Why does less than 1 percent of our population choose to volunteer and put on the cloth of the armed forces of the United States of America'
"I believe that answer lies in distant places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, Korea and the Gulf where our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and Coast Guardsmen are serving even as we speak today. America's sons and daughters are in these places wearing the fabric of our great nation and serving for a cause greater than themselves.
The young people of our nation continue to volunteer in the armed services, because they embody the words of William Faulkner, Nobel Prize-winning novelist who wrote: 'Man will not merely endure; he will prevail ... because he alone among creatures has ... a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.'"