Commentary by Maj. Marty Easter
21st Space Operations Squadron, Det. 3 commander
What does it mean to be a veteran? Webster defines a veteran as “an old soldier of long service” or “a former member of the armed forces.” Personally, I wonder if Webster’s definition is too limiting. Every day I interact with veterans who are neither old nor former members of our country’s armed forces. I see veterans who continue to take the fight to the enemies of our country. Maybe Veterans Day should be about more than just those included in Webster’s definition.
The day that we now know as Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day. It was set aside to honor the end of World War I and the veterans that had participated in that war. World War II and the Korean War produced more than 20 million American veterans. In 1954, to honor the veterans of those wars and all American veterans, the day was renamed Veterans Day.
Since arriving in Hawaii this summer, I can’t help but feel the weight of history even in our country’s most junior state. I am provided a constant string of reminders of what veterans of the past endured: the buildings on Hickam Air Force Base that still show the pockmarks from incoming rounds the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the solemn white form of the Arizona Memorial marking the spot where she sank to the bottom that day along with 1,177 of her crew and the USS Missouri which was the site of the Japanese surrender and thus the end of World War II, Sept. 2, 1945.
Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, or HULA as it is affectionately known, has its own connections with history. Just a short hike past the existing facilities is a decaying observation post dating back to WWII. Walking back from there you pass the remnants of a concrete pad dating back to the Corona program. When the nation took its first steps into space, HULA was ready. While the word veteran might not be normally applied to an installation, I can certainly make an argument for applying this term to HULA. HULA can proudly carry the title as the oldest site in the Air Force Satellite Control Network. Through reorganizations, PCSs and retirements, HULA and its team of military, contractors and government civilians have continually succeeded at the same basic mission…support United States operations in space.
HULA has supported this country through the Space Race, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam and continues to serve our country today. Around the clock and hundreds of times each week HULA successfully connects mission operators to their satellites. That connection ultimately provides space effects to the warfighter.
In the end, I think most people would disagree with my proposal to call HULA a veteran. Really the life blood of any installation is not the land or the equipment, but the people. It is that three part team of military, contractors and government civilians that has kept the mission here going everyday for more than fifty years. And that is just as true at Schriever AFB and every other 50th Space Wing site scattered around the world. While only one third of the three part team is given the “veteran” label, no one can deny the critical contributions of the government civilian and contractor portions of the team. In today’s conflict, even more than any in the past, we all support the defense of this country.
While I see many reminders from earlier chapters in our nation’s history, I am aware that another is being written. History will be the ultimate judge of the success of our current efforts. Helen Keller said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved not only by the shoves of mighty heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” So, this Veterans day I want to first say thanks to all of you whose job is to support the defense of this country, whether you are a veteran, government civilian or contractor. Next, I encourage you to use this day to reflect on the history of this country and the sacrifices of those who came before. Finally, I want to challenge you all to serve to your fullest ability as mighty heroes and honest workers.