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November 11, 2010

Lt. Col. Gillen’s Remarks

I—and many other veterans who are my family—don’t seek tribute today. The lives we lead are our own tribute to each other and to the citizens of the nation we love.

God grant me and all of us the courage, the serenity, and the wisdom to do our duty, to do our best, to live up to the honor and privilege of service in uniform.

Thank you for all you do to support our humble efforts.

Thank you, La Salle, for this space—for the place you’ve set aside for kinship—for “family gatherings,” if you will, where the veterans on this campus can gather and share and understand, where they can support each other as they work to live up to the honor of being a veteran.

I know this place will serve as a beacon for our Army ROTC cadets who have taken the oath to serve, as aspiration and inspiration to share in the identity of military service.

Your efforts—and theirs, too, in creating this space—are so very much appreciated. We are honored and humbled.

I stand here with a Catholic guilt that would make my Irish grandparents so proud – that I’ve not done enough, can never do enough, to earn and retain the privilege of wearing this uniform. And it drives me.

I would, in fact, die for my brothers, and would die for the citizens of the United States, and would die for the citizens of other nations while in service to the United States. Certainly not because it would bring a headline and dramatic story, or bring honor to my name and my family, but because I’m truly in love with soldiers and our nation.  So I strive to do the right thing by them, always, to never, ever let them down.

For many, many of our service members, today is another day in harm’s way. For many military families, it is another day to feel the absence of a loved one and the concern for their safety. For our wounded warriors, it is another day of slow and arduous recovery.

And for all of us, it’s a day of memories that drive us to live our lives each day the best we possibly can to continue to serve each other.

With fewer than 10 percent of Americans serving, some will hasten to label service members—especially those who serve under the most difficult conditions—as “elite.”

Those who have not served try to understand, but it can come across as awe, and it’s awkward.

When they write of honor and glory, of noble service, I hear it as a harsh trumpeting of accolades for what service members have done in dramatic feats of courage.

But the recognition we appreciate far more keenly is what we’ve earned in the quiet of service of others.

The “debt of gratitude” spoken of so often today, must represent not just the thanks of the American people to those who have stepped into harm’s way, from us to our supporting citizens, and to each other—our service is a duty, yes, but also a privilege that we work to earn, and an honor  that is so very humbling.

The speeches throughout the nation today well describe service members as the best of America. They will call this day “sacred” –what an incredible burden to bear.

I am a veteran.

And I’m uncomfortable saying it.

That term “veteran” is too noble, and I don’t deserve it yet; I may never be worthy.
But because the term does accurately describe my service in uniform, I am driven to work tirelessly to live up to its true value.

When I say “Thank you for your service” on this day, I’m saying thank you for everything big or small that other veterans have done to support the team that takes on the perilous and vital challenge of preserving our national security.

I thank them for their service to every soldier, sailor, airman and marine on whose team I’ve been privileged to serve. My family.

To be a veteran is to know that kinship—and knowing that kinship, that brotherhood, is the true privilege and honor of military service.