‘Silent partners’: Veterans’ families also saluted on Veterans Day

DOVER — With a crowd of service members from past and present filling the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base in honor of Veterans Day on Monday, Col. Joel Safranek, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing, decided to deliver his keynote speech “off the cuff.”

The Milford Community Band provided the patriotic musical backdrop, the Dover Air Force Base Honor Guard reverently delivered the colors for the National Anthem and Col. Safranek thanked the veterans who were gathered at the event for their service.

However, he quickly turned his attention to what he called “their silent partners.”
“I happened to see a posting on the internet the other day about the difference between Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Armed Services Day,” Col. Safranek said.

“It said that Memorial Day was concerning those who had died in service and remembering those who had passed who had served, Armed Services Day was remembering those who currently serve and Veterans Day was geared towards honoring and remembering those who had served … but it never really defined who those people were, it just said people who had served.

“So, I’m going to talk about what I think is a silent partner – and that’s our military families. When you think about those family members, one of the biggest things that separates them from us, is that they didn’t volunteer for this.”

The colonel’s remarks came following a 10-minute tear-inducing video that opened the program showing military members returning home to their family members following deployments and thanking veterans for their service.

Sharing the spotlight
While veterans were celebrated on Monday, the role of family members was also honored.
Col. Safranek asked the crowd to close their eyes for a moment and think about veterans and to imagine a picture of what they thought of. Most of those gathered said they pictured a scene from war or the older veterans who proudly wear their jackets, uniforms or hats from their days in the military.

“When you think about it, you think about sacrifices,” said Col. Safranek. “In my 23 years of service I’ve deployed eight times. My wife (Hana) has watched me leave every time and she’s dealt with the family back home while I serve. She did what it takes two parents and a family to do on her own.”

He added that he enjoys the movie “We Were Soldiers,” but his wife never joins him on the couch while he’s watching it.
The colonel said there is a scene in the movie amongst the battles in the Vietnam War where Western Union is sending telegrams back to the United States letting families know that their service member didn’t make it and wouldn’t be coming home.

“My wife knows, as a commander’s spouse, that that’s always a possibility and it’s always too hard for her to watch,” Col. Safranek said. “It goes beyond just being a fictional story, it gets into reality.”

That reality, he said, goes from his wife to his children, who by the time they complete high school will have been enrolled in 10 different schools in nine different communities. It’s a lifestyle that they didn’t volunteer for, but they accept.

“The last time I deployed was two years ago and when I did I turned to my 12-year-old son and I asked him, I said, ‘Look, your oldest brother is 16 and is severely disabled, your sister is a teenager, so you’re the man of the house when I’m gone,’” Col. Safranek said. “We had to talk about what his responsibilities should be – a 12-year-old.

“He stepped up to the plate while I was gone for four-and-a-half months and carried the house in ways that I can’t put words to match the pride that I feel, and at the same time, the difficulty of putting that (responsibility) on a 12-year-old.”

He added, “There’s no hats, there’s no ribbons, there’s no badges and there’s no T-shirts for some of the families. But trust me, you serve and sacrifice in more ways (than you can imagine).”

At the end of Col. Safranek’s speech, he did issue a challenge to the veterans.
“I want to challenge some of the service members in the room today and former service members, that when you do go into a restaurant or you go to Safeway or Target and someone sees you wearing a uniform, a badge or a hat, and they thank you for your service, just take a moment and accept it, because you deserve it,” he said.

“But also turn to your children, or your mom, brother or sister, your spouse, and explain to those people in just a moment or two that they also served right there with you.”

A message that resonated
John Taylor, director of the Air Mobility Command Museum, took the colonel’s message to heart.

“I would just simply say to all the veterans here and your families, thank you for bravely doing what you are called to do, so we can safely do what we are free to do,” Mr. Taylor said. “To the veterans and their families of the past, thank you. To the veterans and their families of the present, thank you. Because of you, we will remember to say, ‘Thank you,’ to the veterans and their families of the future.”

Dover City Council President William “Bill” Hare attended Monday’s ceremony.

It was the value of family that was spoken about at the event that led Mr. Hare to form the Dover Military Support and Readiness Organization for service members at DAFB and their families who might encounter some difficult times.

“I thought (Col. Safranek) was right on,” Mr. Hare said. “It’s families and what they go through. I just wish that I could have done more than I did in Vietnam. I respect the people that are here today and it’s one of the reasons I have the charity that I have, to support those families that need it when their husbands are deployed … there are needs that come up.”

The AMC Museum was about the perfect site to host a Veterans Day ceremony, with its vast collection of historical artifacts under its roof – and outside.

Patrick O’Neill, of Woodstown, New Jersey, is a volunteer at the AMC Museum and said he enjoys getting the chance to interact with the veterans who often visit to rekindle their past.

Mr. O’Neill was wearing the uniform of a glider pilot from the 436th from 75 years ago at Monday’s ceremony.
“I love this,” he said. “Personally, I love to don the uniform and work on the exhibits and keep the spirits of these veterans and heroes alive.”

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