Lt. Gen. Chris Mohan, deputy commander of the Army Materiel Command, praised veterans for their military service and their part in the community’s growth at the YMCA Veterans Prayer Breakfast.
The event on Friday kicked off a full week of community celebrations to honor veterans.
“We stand in awe of the sacrifice and unwavering commitment to duty” that veterans have shown, said Mohan, the senior commander of Redstone Arsenal. “We’re truly among heroes today.”
Mohan, now in his fourth tour at Redstone, first arrived here in 1989 as “a brand-new second lieutenant.”
“I’ve seen the exponential growth that this installation and the Tennessee Valley have achieved over the past 30 years,” he said. “I will tell you that the credit goes to the local community, our civilian leaders but also the power and strength of our veteran community as well.”
Local veterans continue to serve as leaders and mentors, even after leaving the military, Mohan said in his keynote address. “You’re the embodiment of service, continuing to give back to make our nation a better place for all Americans. And for your service – in uniform and out -- our national owes you a debt of gratitude.”
The 17th annual breakfast event, whose theme was “Courage, Sacrifice and Duty, Honoring our Military Veterans,” was held at the Craig and Steven Hogan Family YMCA in Madison.
Retired Spc. 4 Ronald Wright of Huntsville was presented the Silver Star Service Banner and retired 1st Sgt. Sam Bertling of Madison was presented the Brig. Gen. Robert Drolet Service to Veterans Award.
Mohan noted that a weeklong veterans tribute “doesn’t happen in many other places. The support that this community shows for our veterans is amazing, it’s nothing short of amazing.”
Mohan recognized retired Master Sgt. Bob Sawada, who survived the horrors of Dachau Concentration Camp, which was liberated by U.S. forces, and was adopted by an American Soldier. Sawada joined the Army, serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Mohan said that after Sawada retired from the Army, he worked for two decades as an Army civilian at Redstone Arsenal.
“He represents the best of our country and the best of our Army,” Mohan said.
Mohan also honored Korean and Vietnam war veterans for their service during some of most challenging conflicts in the nation’s history.
“Our Korean War veterans faced a brutal conflict with great courage,” he said, noting that July marked the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice. “That is a stark reminder of approximately 1.7 million U.S. military personnel” who served in Korea, with many of those also World War II veterans.
“These veterans demonstrate the enduring spirit that we honor here today,” Mohan said.
Mohan said that Vietnam veterans also faced significant challenges, both on the battlefield and unfortunately on returning home.
“As many of you may know, for 11 years, the Department of Defense has been commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. This has been our way to honor and thank our Vietnam veterans who, for the most part, received little or nothing in the way of honor and thanks” when they returned home from the war.
Their dedication, even under difficult circumstances, remains “an inspiration to us all,” Mohan said.
The Army’s latest marketing campaign launched earlier this year resurrected the 1980s and 1990s-era slogan, “Be All You Can Be.”
But Mohan said “Be All You Can Be” is more than a slogan.
“It embodies the idea that every individual can reach their full potential through discipline, hard work and determination,” he said. “This is a concept that our veterans have lived by and one that you have taken to your lives as civilians.”
Mohan asked that everyone take the time this week to honor veterans and to continue to keep service members on the front lines “in your thoughts and prayers.
“I’ve never seen a more dangerous world than what we have right now,” he said.
Ronald Wright was drafted into the Army in 1967, at age 18, and was assigned to the 1st Infantry Brigade, 101st Airborne Division as an Army medic in the Republic of Vietnam. When his platoon was attacked on May 18, 1967, by Viet Cong soldiers firing automatic weapons, he responded to pleas for help from his wounded fellow Soldiers.
As he worked his way through gunfire to the wounded Soldiers, Wright was knocked to the ground by a grenade explosion but continued to aid the Soldiers while ignoring his own injuries and treating and moving them to safety.
Wright was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his extraordinary heroism and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained from the gunfire wounds to his face and jaw.
He spent five months in recovery in hospitals in Vietnam, Okinawa, Japan and Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Bertling joined the Army
when he was 17 and completed Basic Combat Training and Infantry Advanced Individual Training before being assigned to Charlie Company, 1/38th Infantry, 2nd Infantry
Division, Republic of Korea. In 1990, he was deployed as the first sergeant of the Long-Range Reconnaissance Detachment, 24th Mechanized Infantry Division in support of the Gulf War.
After Desert Storm, he was assigned to Delta Company, 502nd Infantry, Combat Support Battalion in Berlin, Germany, and became its command sergeant major. He deactivated the Berlin Brigade, returning the facilities to the German government and then transferred to Hohenfels, Germany in summer 1994.
Bertling retired in May 1996 and took a position as an Army civilian and moved to Wiesbaden, Germany. He moved his family to Redstone Arsenal in 2005 and joined the Space and Missile Defense Command as a program analyst.
Bertling retired in 2018 with 47 years of combined federal service, 24 years in uniform.
He is a co-founder, with his wife, KC Bertling, and president of the Legacy 4 Korean War Veterans Foundation and is also secretary for the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition. KC Bertling was the emcee of the breakfast event.
“I’m very honored to receive this award,” Bertling said.
Karockas Watkins, board chair of the Heart of the Valley YMCA, said that proceeds from the breakfast will go to the YMCA Military Outreach Program, which provides support to the community’s veterans and their families.
In 2022, the Heart of the Valley YMCA provided free and subsidized memberships and programs valued at more than $88,644 to 3,101 military personnel and their families.