19 April 2013

April 19, 1775 and 2013: Today is Patriots' Day

Patriots' Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts, as well as Wisconsin and Maine, although the apostrophe shifts with the geography. In Massachusetts, the holiday is observed on the third Monday of April. The holiday commemorates April 19, 1775, and the first battles of the American Revolution, Lexington and Concord.

The iconic image of the American Minuteman, featured on U.S. National Guard and Reserve symbols, also comes from these times.

Minutemen were citizens who stood ready to leave their families at a moment's notice, in order to defend their neighbors, farms, and businesses. (Note to my warrior-princess second-grader: There were Minutewomen, too.)

I joined the U.S. Army in the late 1980s and '90s. When I didn't get active duty, I joined the National Guard. Some people say they joined the military to answer the call of "God and Country." I like to say I joined the National Guard to answer the call of "God, Country, and Community."

After all, while they train to serve a wartime mission overseas, the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard also muster at the order of their respective states' governors, and respond to events of national crisis or natural disaster. We are not first responders, but we are there to back up local law enforcement, emergency medical, public health, and transportation officials. We surge to our own backyards.

I had my first opportunity to volunteer for state active duty in 1993. The city hall had been built on an island in the middle of the Cedar River, and the flood waters were rising around it. My battalion commander said that, in his 20 years since Vietnam, it was the first time he could remember getting called up like that. He asked for volunteers. He almost had too many.

I guess you could say that we ran to the sound of the rapids.

During my two decades in uniform, I filled sandbags in Cedar Rapids. I monitored levees protecting my old high school haunting grounds along the Mississippi River. From the Joint Operations Center ("JOC"), I tracked the locations of power generators, emergency shelters, and rescue teams during blizzards. I got plenty of chances to serve, to answer the call of community, to help my neighbors.

When I retired, my wife observed that I'd finally be around to help shovel the driveway, particularly when there was a blizzard. She was joking, but only a little.

When citizen-soldiers support local law enforcement and emergency personnel, it's always the civilian responders who take the lead. The National Guard is rarely, if ever, put a position of first-response. Local firefighters or police arrive on site, take command, make assessments, and start working the scene.

We used to joke that we're more like "first-and-a-half responders"—there only if needed, to flow into any gaps the civilian agencies needed to cover. And that only happens through a complicated and deliberate conversation among elected and appointed officials, at local, regional, and state levels.

There's one exception to this, and that's when a National Guard soldier is on the scene and able to respond to save life, limb, or eyesight. And that's where 20 Massachusetts Army National Guard members found themselves on Mon., April 15, 2013, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

First Lt. Steve Fiola, 1st Sgt. Bernard Madore, and 18 other soldiers from the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 1060th Transportation Company, Framingham, Mass., were participating a "Tough Ruck" intended to benefit the Military Friends Foundation, a Boston-based non-profit. Two other soldiers also participated in a shadow event, while serving downrange in Afghanistan.

The organization serves National Guard and Reserve service members, and families of the fallen. "Through generous donations made by individuals and companies," the group's Facebook page states, "we have been able to provide over half a million dollars to Massachusetts military families in times of need."

There was an explosion in Boston last Monday, near the finish line. Then, there was another.

The citizen-soldiers had just come off rucking the marathon—26 miles wearing boots and full backpacks.

Then, along with others, they ran to the sites of the blasts.

You can read more about their actions here, and here, and here.

No doubt, Fiola and his fellow citizen-soldiers will be recognized for their efforts. Depending on the still-to-be-determined circumstances of the attack, the Soldier's Medal might be one possibility.

They were not the only heroes that day, of course. I do not mean to place too much focus on their example. Our thoughts and prayers and support should go to all those affected by the April 15 attacks. And yet, I am particularly comforted by the sight of those modern-day Minutemen. It means we haven't forgotten our roots.

Some see the American Minuteman as an icon of individualism: One man, one musket, a singular resolve. That doesn't do justice to the full narrative, however. The Minuteman isn't a loner; he's part of a unit. Not only that, but he stands ready to answer a call of service not from a distant land, but from his neighbors.

Today is Patriots' Day. This is a day when we celebrate those who run to the sound of the guns, who leave without hesitation the comforts of home and family, who put themselves at risk without reservation or second thought.

Remember Lexington and Concord. Remember Oklahoma City. Now, remember Boston.

Do not let those who seek to undermine the meaning of this day gain purchase in our hearts, or in our thinking, or in our respect for the law and care for each other.

We are bound together, under one Constitution. We are neighbors. We are a community.

Stand ready. Stand together.

Today is Patriots' Day.

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