The Heroes of 2011

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Clovis, CA – This little town not far from Fresno may be a perfect place to observe Veterans Day as our nation closes a decade of war. A quiet San Joaquin Valley community in the heart of our most populous state, Clovis has lost 10 of its sons – eight of them from Buchanan High School – in Afghanistan and Iraq. Though the Defense Department apparently doesn’t keep statistics on per capita losses for American communities, Clovis may be for this war what Bedford, Virginia was for World War II. According to local records, 19 “Bedford Boys” – all from the little Shenandoah Valley town – died within hours of one another at Normandy’s Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. That’s why the National D-Day Memorial is in Bedford.

At least for now, Clovis has taken a somewhat different approach. Rather than just a memorial of brick and stone, this community has decided to invest in improving lives – those of area veterans. For the past seven years, the citizens here have turned out to participate in what they call the Hubbard-Baro Memorial Golf Tournament. Funds raised by the event are used to supplement recovery, therapy and rehabilitation programs for hurting heroes at the nearby veteran’s hospital.

The tournament is named for the first two “Clovis Boys” to die in this long war: Jared Hubbard and Jeremiah Baro. After graduating from Buchanan High, the two friends enlisted in the Marines and went to “boot camp” and follow-on infantry training together. Paired as a two-man scout-sniper team, they deployed in February 2003 to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The two “battle buddies” shipped out again the following year to bloody Anbar Province, and on November 4, 2004, they died together when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated beneath their vehicle.

Some have questioned the need for such an event. “Why,” asked a fellow passenger on the flight here, “does anyone need to have a fundraiser for these guys? Doesn’t the government pay for all that?” The short answer is no. And it’s unlikely the U.S. government will ever be able to do all that is needed for the veterans of America’s wars.

There should be no doubt that military medicine has improved dramatically in the years since my peers and I were wounded on the battlefields of Vietnam. Innovations in emergency trauma treatment and equipment; advanced training for field medical personnel; and rapid helicopter evacuations of the 36,000 Americans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan to some of world’s best shock-trauma hospitals has saved the lives of many who would have died in any other war. But that also means there are thousands of survivors who will need help for years to come.

Private sector efforts like the Hubbard-Baro golf tourney here in Clovis and projects like those undertaken by donor-supported organizations like Freedom Alliance help fill the gap between government programs and the long-term needs of our veterans. They help ensure that severely wounded veterans can make the transition from “casualty” to “productive citizen.” Of equal importance, they help ensure today’s veterans won’t be “cast-offs,” like those of the Vietnam era.

Unfortunately, endeavors like these are likely to become even more important in the days ahead. If the Obama administration and some in Congress have their way, there will be major cuts in the amount of care provided for the dependents of active-duty military personnel and new co-pay requirements for veterans receiving treatment for service-connected disabilities. That means even greater demands on local communities like Clovis and foundations like Freedom Alliance for everything from specially enabled housing to custom-equipped vehicles to service dogs.

For a decade now, I have been covering America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Guardsmen and Marines for FOX News. Notably, the night before Veterans Day is the “birthday” of the U.S. Marine Corps. This year, I observed the anniversary – the 236th – with the families of several fallen Marines. We didn’t talk politics. What we did speak of were issues like winning the war in which they lost their loved ones – and how cuts in pay, medical care, family housing and even “death benefits” will adversely affect recruiting in an all-volunteer military.

The 2.4 million bright, brave, incredibly fit and remarkably talented young Americans who have served in our armed forces since we were attacked on 9-11-01 are indeed all volunteers. As General David Petraeus put it during a conversation we had in Afghanistan, “They all came or stayed, knowing they were going to war.” For more than a decade, these patriots and their loved ones have made extraordinary sacrifices for this country. They embody the classical definition of heroes: those who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others. On this Veterans Day, these heroes and their families deserve our thanks – not program cuts – from the American people they so courageously defend.

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