Let’s take care of our youth – and unite as a country | opinion


Dan Williams

I recently had the privilege of serving on the Service Academy nominating committee for the 5th congressional district. This is the eighth year that I have had the opportunity to help select the men and women who will serve our nation in uniform upon graduation from one of our premier service academies. It’s a tough cut with the best of the best competing for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

In addition to reviewing their academic record, essays, letters of recommendation, and a host of other documents, we ask them a series of questions to determine if serving the nation is truly their primary goal. Each year the board of directors asks these young Americans the rhetorical question, “If you could change one thing about our nation today, what would it be?” Almost to one person this year, these outstanding young Americans said, “I would end division in our country, and I would ask Americans to respect each other and their differences, and please get along.” I was down and the whole board became postponed. Many of us feel the same way, but hearing that our children – our future – are not only acknowledging this, but asking to stop being part of a choice to become war fighters speaks volumes about where we are as a nation today.

The heated rhetoric, hatred and anger that have divided us are few in their full extent on the next generation, our children, and that should make us stop and think. Veterans have served their country overseas, in battle and in distant places far different from the great country we call America. Veterans have seen things most Americans can’t even imagine and, frankly, should never see. We have fought wars and seen the complete collapse of the rule of law and humanity in countries much older than the United States. We stand up and march into battle with the American flag on our shoulders and behind the American flag and with the support of our nation. We try to teach the countries we fight against that there is more than ourselves and we introduce them to democracy and freedom. Although our successes in this endeavor have varied over the years, when we come home we are thanked for our service and we know that we truly fought for our freedom. A veteran’s hope is that we made a difference.

So why can’t our country get along and appreciate the freedoms we’ve secured for them? Our children are literally asking us to stop hating each other and focus on our future. As veterans, we have witnessed chaos and cruelty and the collapse of societal norms and decency in combat.

Combat veterans know how far some people will go to gain power and destroy others. Today, for example, the world has a front row seat to Russia’s attack on the free nation of Ukraine.

When veterans come home, we feel relieved to be among Americans and all the good this country has to offer. We’re trying to normalize ourselves and enjoying some of the freedoms we’ve earned. We hope and pray that somehow our sacrifices have made this country a little better. Our hope that somehow our children’s futures are secured with the blood of patriots and that they will have more opportunities than we do.

But today, when we take the time to listen, our children challenge us to be better and to be the role model they should aspire to. When our children tell us that we need to stop fighting, get along, listen and work together for their future, we really need to take a moment to reflect on where we are.

Dissent is not disrespect. Differing viewpoints don’t make people less trustworthy or less patriotic. How we interpret the US Constitution, how we vote, how we think about different issues should not separate us but unite us in our love for this country.

Veterans who have witnessed combat know that while courage runs deep within each of us, none of us has done our work in combat in isolation and without the help of others. Veterans are part of a team, and they can teach us much as we try to bring our country back together. If America is to stand up again, stand for freedom, and be a beacon to the rest of the world, we must respect one another and the life that has been given to each of us.

As you see veterans in our community today on Veterans Day, you will know that they are bound together through service to this nation. Understand that veterans are part of a team, and that team is part of who we are as Americans. Look to the example of the American veteran and look into the eyes of your children this year as we resolve to reunite as a nation. That’s this veteran’s hope.

Dan Williams is District 1 Teller County Commissioner and current Chairman of the Board; a retired U.S. Army Colonel and multiple veteran, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is the post-1980 American Legion Commander and a post-6051 VFW Life Member. He lives with his wife, Suzan, a retired nurse and US Army Colonel, on their ranch near Cripple Creek.