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Veterans Day in North Dakota - by the numbers

(Editor's note: The following Veterans Day comments were provided by Staff Sgt. Amy Wieser Willson, Public Information Officer for the North Dakota National Guard. We found the information highly interesting, extremely meaningful and a very appropriate way of saying 'thank you' as the annual observance honoring our country's military men and women fast approaches tomorrow)

For some, it's just another Thursday. For others, it's a bonus day off from work. But, for 23.2 million Americans, Nov. 11 represents a day to honor them for their military service. About 57,700 of those millions are North Dakota veterans who served in times of war and peace. Thursday, the 91st anniversary of what is now known as Veterans Day, is a day to remember their sacrifices and say thanks.

What we now call "Veterans Day" began on Nov. 11, 1919, as Armistice Day. It was the first anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1926, Congress designated it an annual observance, and a dozen years later, it became a national holiday. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation to change the name to Veterans Day as a way to honor those who served in any of America's conflicts.

Today, those veterans are recognized in parades, during ceremonies and with free meals at local veterans' clubs. As the state's populace of World War II and Korean veterans lessens, the 18,000 Vietnam-era veterans and 14,000 Gulf War-era veterans here have grown more prominent at such events. More and more young people continue to step up to follow their legacy of service. The composition of those veterans also is changing. Nationwide, there are now 1.8 million women veterans; in North Dakota, 4,567 of the women in the state have served in the military. 

More than half of all those currently serving in the North Dakota National Guard joined the military since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. They raised their right hands and pledged to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" while knowing full well they would likely deploy overseas before their first enlistment was up.

In the nine years since that horrific day in American history, more than 4,400 North Dakota Army and Air National Guardsmen have deployed from the state, as have reservists from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, Airmen from Minot and Grand Forks bases and active-duty forces who call North Dakota home. North Dakotans don't shy away from service; 65 of every 10,000 residents here are in the military. Nationally, that rate is much lower, with only 15 of every 10,000 residents serving.

In today's all-volunteer military, each service member stood up to accept the challenges and risks on their own. They prepared their families for separation and watched from afar as their family members served, too - raising children alone, handling all of the household chores and managing the finances. As dual-status service members and civilians, they worked with their employers to ensure a seamless transition from civilian to service member and back again. In the meantime, hundreds of employers across the state expressed their support and patriotism by supporting their soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines while they were away.  

Our state's veterans predominantly hold a wealth of skills, having been trained in what oftentimes are separate careers in the military and in the civilian workforce.

"Besides our strong work ethic and dedication, one of the reasons North Dakota has been so incredibly successful during deployments is that we bring so many skills to the mission," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. "If they call for an air defense unit, the nation gets soldiers trained in high-tech systems, but they also get civilians who may be trained as a journeyman electrician, for example, who can help in a pinch if there's a generator problem overseas."

Veterans may be your neighbors, your mail carriers, your plumbers, your teachers, your police officers or your elected representatives.

In the elections last week, you likely saw a veteran or two at your local polling place. The U.S. Census Bureau has found that veterans are more likely to vote in elections than the civilian populace.

As today's veterans are thanked for their service, many more are remembered for their service. In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 24 North Dakotans have given all they had and died fighting. Many more have died in wars of the past, including 334 who served with the North Dakota National Guard's 164th Infantry Regiment during World War II.

Civil War veteran Robert G. Ingersoll once said, "He loves his country best who strives to make it best."

On Veterans Day, we collectively say thanks for those valiant efforts.