Our country began with "citizen soldiers". Men and often boys ... who spent their lives plowing, milking, building and doing a host of other jobs for their families and communities.
When the call came for a militia to fight the Redcoats ... they dropped their chores and grabbed their muskets.
The 1138th Engineer Company of Farmington is just one modern day example of "citizen soldiers". That unit like hundreds of other National Guard or Reserve Units is filled with men and women who work jobs ... but are always at the ready when our nation needs them.
A couple of months ago, the 1138th returned from Iraq, but 2 soldiers were lost in battle. Sgt. Matthew Straughter of Belleville, Illinois was manning a machine gun when he was killed by a rocket propelled grenade. Sgt. Bradley Skelton of Gordonville, Misssouri was killed when his vehicle hit an explosive device; Sgt. Josh Eckhoff of Ballwin, Missouri was seriously wounded in that attack.
The 1138th is a "sapper" unit. The mission is to find and destroy explosive devices before other troops get hurt. Troops use what is called a "Buffalo". This is a 24 ton vehicle .. heavily armored ... that seeks out and detonates or disposes improvised explosive devices. It has a 30 foot retractable arm with a camera to help the operator see what it is doing .. and a claw like rake to uncover explosives. The success of the Buffalo and sapper troops like the 1138th .. have saved countless lives.
In my story aired on Channel 4 .. I interviewed three members of the 1138th .. and they certainly reflect the portrait of the "citizen soldier".
33 year old SSGT. William H. Halbrook is a truck driver when he's not "down range" in a military action. This last trip was his second tour in Iraq within his 10 years of service. SSGT. Halbrook has a wife, 2 boys and 3 girls.
33 year old SGT. Lawrence M. Johnson also completed his second tour of Iraq; he has 16 years in the National Guard. SGT. Johnson has a wife and 2 boys. Currently, he paints cars but plans to seek a BA in Computer Science.
SSGT. Curtis W. Wesbecher is another member of the 1138th who just completed a second tour of duty in Iraq. This dry wall contractor has a daughter who just completed her basic training, and she might end up in Iraq. If so, SSGT. Wesbecher says he will volunteer to go with her.
Those are profiles of Americans who put "country first".
There are thousands just like them across our nation. They might be your neighbor, a car mechanic, a teacher, a nurse, a farmer ... they come from every walk of life.
We should honor them and make sure they know we appreciate their sacrifices ... and one more, very important point.
Make sure we honor, appreciate and support their families while they are in the trenches for our country.