In the days leading up to and including Veterans Day, I will have the privilege to connect with Oregon’s veterans at parades, pancake breakfasts, and ceremonies across the state.
It has been four years since I returned from my third and final deployment to Iraq. My journey began when I walked into a Marine Corps recruiting station on Sept. 10, 2001 — less than 24 hours before this country would be unfathomably altered.
By the time I was in basic training, our nation’s war drums were beating with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. When I reported to my first duty station in San Diego, my unit had deployed the week prior. I threw my personal effects into storage and joined them in Al Anbar, Iraq.
When I raised my right hand to serve, I wanted to be tested and part of something larger than myself. Only now do I fully appreciate the depth of history and tradition I joined. Across all generations of veterans, there is a shared bond whether they served stateside or in places like Iwo Jima or Inchon, Khe Sanh or Kandahar, Normandy or Najaf.
My decision to join the Marines also meant that I had enlisted my family to serve. My wife and parents endured the anxiety of three deployments and held down the home front. They taught me that our military families are the backbone of this nation’s forces. While they do not wear the uniform, there is no question they serve with quiet strength and unwavering support.
Now safely at home with a young family of my own, I am keenly aware that we still have thousands deployed in Afghanistan. As we close out the fight overseas, our veterans begin the fight at home to access healthcare, continue their education, and find work with a mission. The wars will end, but the effort to serve our veterans is just beginning.
Do not underestimate or overlook our returning veterans. They have hard-earned skills and are ready to lead here at home. And for those most impacted by their service, understand their tenacious spirit and resiliency. They deserve nothing less than the best in care, resources, and opportunities — not as a charity, but as an investment.
A robust veterans’ benefits system is essential, but we know our veterans and their families will thrive in Oregon only if we develop, nurture, and sustain a community-wide effort. Good intentions are not enough. Together, we must take the sea of goodwill that exists for our veterans and turn it into measurable results.
This Veterans Day, I’ll be raising a toast to the new greatest generation of veterans and all those who led the way for us. Please join me in giving thanks to all veterans and those who are still serving around the world. Let us honor them on this day and recommit to partnering together throughout the year to fulfill the sacred trust of caring for all those who have borne the battle.
Cameron Smith served three tours in Iraq as a Marine officer and is the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (503-373-2388).