By Marie-Lise Baneton, USAG Benelux Public AffairsNovember 21, 2018
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- Veterans Day and Thanksgiving are significant U.S. holidays that have a main purpose in common -- they are times to pause and reflect on accomplishments and to express gratitude for who we are and for our heritage.
During the recent World War I centennial commemorations on and around Veterans Day -- Armistice Day here in Europe -- many nations paused to honor the memory of the Allied service members, resistance fighters and civilians who made the ultimate sacrifice during both world wars.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we remembered those who have served -- and are still serving -- and our hearts were filled with great pride and thanks. Our Belgian hosts shared that very same spirit.
One hundred years is more than a lifetime… a lifetime many West-Europeans would not have enjoyed without the Allies' role during both world wars. They had to suffer through long years of occupation and oppression. They had lost most of their properties and often were mourning a parent, a sibling, a child or a friend.
Two wars left scars in these countries but they also have left things that no enemy can destroy -- bonds of friendship, trust and alliances, between our governments and our populations. It is not a simple coincidence that the U.S., Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg were amongst the first nations to sign the North Atlantic Treaty.
Years have passed. The Benelux countries and their populations have since recovered. Those who experienced the difficult years are fading away but the memories and the gratitude are not. Both world wars have generated alliances and special bonds of friendship between the nations.
Nowadays, our host nations are expressing their gratitude through commemorative ceremonies that go beyond an expression of gratefulness -- they are about performing a "duty of memory" to ensure one remembers the past in order to protect the future of the generations to come.
As they do so, they always invite our service members, as they consider them a part of the family. While I was standing in a number of these ceremonies as an Army civilian who happens to be a Belgian citizen and a communicator, I saw Veterans Day as a time to reflect on our garrison's roles and responsibilities and on the impact each and every one of the team members can have.
Our garrison's vision is to "provide consistent, quality services that serve as a force multiplier for supported organizations and communities as a valued alliance partner within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a 'Strong Europe'."
Being a part of these ceremonies year in and year out, the public affairs team has the unique opportunity to confirm that this is not just a statement -- it is a way of life. I thought I'd share some of these moving moments with those who don't have the same opportunity to observe this first hand.
I've seen our sharp Color Guards, proudly carrying the Belgian, Dutch and American colors in all kinds of weather, during short and long ceremonies. And I've seen their pride standing there as ambassadors of the U.S. Armed Forces.
I've seen tears in the eyes of American next-of-kin who finally were able to return to the crash site of a bomber, to one of the U.S. military cemeteries or to a monument honoring one of theirs, who died too soon because he believed in a cause bigger than himself. Their emotion is not just sadness for the loss, it is gratitude for what the local people have done - and are still doing - to adopt a grave, build and maintain a monument or simply make sure the young generations will never forget.
I visited Bastogne in December, freezing cold, covered with snow and ice, but still filled with the warmth of friendship, with American flags hanging off every window. It becomes a "miniature America" in Europe where locals want to shake your hand and thank you, only because you're American.
I saw local children and U.S. veterans participate in ceremonies together. I watched the USAG Benelux Soldiers sit together in a room with their proud predecessors of the Greatest Generation. Our Soldiers want to get every story out of them, they want to learn. And the veterans love sharing their stories with them, because only they know what it's like.
I saw a Belgian veteran present a centennial commemorative medal to our garrison commander while stating that "through him, he is honoring every single American Soldier."
I saw Soldiers and Airmen from the garrison and our mission partners stand shoulder-to-shoulder in many commemorative ceremonies and take the same pride in representing their service.
I've seen heads of states and ambassadors attend those events to show how significant this duty of memory is.
I've seen American, Canadian and British veterans and patriotic associations being recognized in public for the sacrifices of the past.
Witnessing all this makes me proud about what our garrison does every day. Every time our service members stand tall in a commemoration, every time we civilians help them do their jobs, every time we work hand in hand with our mission partners and every time we engage our Allies, we do "serve as a force multiplier for supported organizations and communities as a valued alliance partner within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a 'Strong Europe'."
So yes, we are busy every day. Yes, we get new tasks and short suspenses. Yes, we understand the burden of doing less with less. I chose to look at it as a half-full glass -- each morning we can go to work knowing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and we can make a difference in people's lives. I encourage you to take pride in your contributions to our garrison's success.
One Team, One Benelux!