WASHINGTON – Last Friday, ahead of Memorial Day, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who served as a company commander in Kuwait and Iraq leading 150 Iowa Army National Guardsmen during Operation Iraqi Freedom, spoke on the Senate floor to honor America’s fallen soldiers and their families, including a number of Iowa’s heroes.
Wearing her own military rucksack, Ernst recognized the importance of the Memorial Day holiday, and paid tribute to the Iowans who risked everything to preserve our great freedoms.
Senator Ernst’s full remarks are below:
“Mr. President, on Monday we honor the fallen on Memorial Day.
“While we traditionally spend this day of remembrance with our family and friends, things will look a little bit different this year.
“Even though we won’t have the same services and ceremonies we typically take part in, it doesn’t make this day any less important.
“Just like every year, this Memorial Day, let’s commemorate the servicemembers and families who have sacrificed in defense of our freedom.
“The freedoms we cherish, but are so often taken for granted, did not come without a price.
“For generations, American patriots have secured our blessings of liberty by willingly laying down their lives in defense of our great nation.
“Every fallen soldier leaves behind a grieving parent, child, sibling, spouse, or friend.
“These family members and friends never forget the knock at the door…the sound of Taps…the loud thunder of the 21 gun salute…or the touch of the folded flag once laid on a casket.
“And as a combat veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I know that the men and women in uniform who served bravely alongside the fallen never forget either.
“I think of Iowans like…Iraq War veteran Richard Miles, whose picture I proudly display on my desk…
“Iowa Army National Guardsmen Brent Maher…Iowa National Guardsmen James Kearney, his family are dear friends, just 22 years old, killed in Afghanistan…
“Army Sgt. James “Jamie” Skalberg, Jr. died in combat in Afghanistan at just 25 years old, leaving behind his beautiful son who was not even a year old when he lost his father…
“Sgt. Joseph Milledge was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his unit as it searched for weapons in Baghdad, and he was just 23…It was the knock that I gave on his mother’s door to tell her that her son would never be coming back home.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Marilyn Gabbard, the first women in Iowa National Guard to be promoted to the rank of Command Sgt. Maj., killed in Iraq in a Black Hawk helicopter crash.
“The stories and many, many more of these men and women of Iowa are heartbreaking and heroic, and the very reason for Memorial Day.
“For 23 years, I served alongside the best of our nation, women and men who risked absolutely everything to preserve our great freedoms.
“And one of the many ways I pay tribute is through a ruck march…
“Every couple months, that is, until COVID-19, I would gather a group of people to go on a ruck march.
“I grabbed my rucksack filled with nearly 35 pounds of weight, and marched down around the Washington Monument and back.
“These marches offer a time for us to remember and reflect on the service and sacrifice of those in our armed services.
“A couple of years ago, I went on the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico… this is 26 miles, it’s a marathon, in the desert, with a 46 pound rucksack…not my typical 35 pounds.
“Folks, let me tell you, it was exhausting. My feet were blistered, my legs swollen and sore, and my back ached for days after. There were times during that march that I thought I couldn’t keep walking…and I was probably dehydrated…and just simply wanted to quit.
“But…every minute, and every mile…was worth it. Because we were honoring the lives of the fallen, those who were on that Bataan Death March, and others who had sacrificed family, comfort, health, and in so many cases…their lives.
“The Bataan March really put the meaning behind Memorial Day into focus.
“Now, while this weekend is a time to reflect on sacrifice and the lives lost, this entire month is Military Appreciation Month, so I want to take just a minute to commend our servicemembers.
“During this pandemic, our men and women in uniform have fought tirelessly against this invisible enemy. And they have been doing an outstanding job.
“For instance, our troops have stepped up to care for patients in hospitals and created deployable medical units such as the Air Force expeditionary medical system, Army combat support hospitals and field hospitals, and Navy expeditionary medical facilities.
“Members of our U.S. Air Force have transported critical supplies around our nation.”
“And, heroes who are near and dear to my heart, our National Guardsmen have been working around the clock to disinfect public spaces, hand out food, and provide transportation and logistics support.
“To all of our servicemembers at home and abroad…thank you. And to their families and loved ones who also make tremendous sacrifices, we appreciate you, and we support you.
“Because of the ongoing service of our military men and women, we will defeat this virus.”
“Folks, on this Memorial Day and during Military Appreciation Month, I pray we take time out of our lives, we pause, and we remember all of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and the families and the friends and loved ones that they’ve left behind.
“To all of our soldiers, air men, marines, and sailors who never returned home…today we honor you.
“May God bless our troops and their families.”