From the outside looking in:
Fort Rucker salutes veterans in annual ceremony
Brig. Gen. Stanley E. Budraitis, U.S. Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker deputy commanding general, CW5 Jonathan P. Koziol, chief warrant officer of the Aviation Branch, and Command Sgt. Maj. Terrence D. Reyes Jr., 1st Aviation Brigade command sergeant major, salute the wreath during the Fort Rucker Veterans Day ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum Nov. 10. (Photo Credit: Kelly Morris) VIEW ORIGINAL

Fort Rucker conducted its annual Veterans Day ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum Nov. 10.

The event, which was broadcast via Facebook on the USAACE and Fort Rucker Facebook page, paid tribute to all American veterans across all components in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard who stepped forward to defend the nation throughout history.

Event host Brig. Gen. Stanley E. Budraitis, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, welcomed attendees and spoke about the far-reaching impacts veterans have on others.

“What a great day it is to be an American and an Army aviator here at Fort Rucker, the home of Army Aviation,” he said. “Thank you for joining us today as we honor our veterans who have served and continue to serve.”

Each year, Veterans Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. On the 11th hour of the 11th day, of the 11th month, the battlefields of Europe fell silent after more than four years of fighting. In time, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars.

“Truly our people are our greatest strength. Taking care of them, and ensuring they are ready to fight and win our nation’s wars is our top priority,” he said.

Soldiers live by the Army Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. In so doing they keep the nation free and “inspire others to reach their potential, and even to make the decision to serve in the military,” Budraitis said.

“What a privilege it is to grow up in America, the greatest nation that has ever existed, and have the opportunities available to us to enjoy the freedoms we have that often are so easily taken for granted. To have a chance to live the American dream, understand what The Colors represent, to feel the spirit of patriotism, to hear and answer the call to serve—to see America from the inside looking out,” Budraitis said.

He contrasted that image with the viewpoint of someone who is not an American citizen, viewing the nation “from the outside looking in,” wishing to become a citizen and serve.

Kosovo native 2nd Lt. Valdeta Mehanja, a recent flight school graduate who attended the ceremony along with her sister Staff Sgt. Blerta Mehanja, achieved a dream that was instilled in her by American Soldiers years ago, when she earned her Wings a few months ago, Budraitis explained.

Fleeing Kosovo as a child, Mehanja and her siblings grew up in Germany as refugees. They returned to a ravished homeland as teenagers to try to put the pieces of their lives back together, finish school and find work. Work was hard to come by, and they were hungry. The family was happy to receive aid during that time from churches and volunteer groups in the United States.

Having learned another language while in Germany helped her find employment. Before long she and her sister were working in Iraq and Afghanistan as contractors for the U.S. government.

At one point a convoy Mehanja was traveling with between Tikrit and Baghdad was hit by an IED. As bullets were fired, she resigned herself to her fate; but suddenly everything changed. An Apache helicopter arrived on the scene and suppressed the enemy. Army Aviators saved her life.

Looking up at that U.S. Army helicopter, she determined in her heart to find a path to citizenship, become an aviator, and return the favor to those veterans by serving in the U.S. Army.

“It would take a lot of grit and perseverance as she navigated multiple hurdles along the way, but she held to her personal conviction that God had a path for her,” he said.

Mehanja was accepted at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she became a flight instructor. She enlisted in the Army as Black Hawk mechanic, eventually made her way to Officer Candidate School, and to flight school at Fort Rucker. She currently serves with the Alabama National Guard as a Black Hawk pilot.

“Lieutenant Mehanja had a dream, and through hard work, dedication and perseverance she did it--she became a U.S. citizen, a Soldier and an Army aviator. She did it because of brave veterans who inspired her,” Budraitis said.

“Today we celebrate all of our veterans and the tremendous difference you make, not only here at home, but around the world,” he said. “It’s because of you that people like Lieutenant Mehanja have a hope for a better life.”