By Major General Mari Eder
November 12, 2105
You don’t have to ask anyone who has served in the U.S. military what that means.
They all know. Each and every one in a very personal way.
Friends made, kept, lost. Colleagues and commanders. The drill sergeant no one could forget. Places visited, tours, deployments. German beer and kimchi. Field rations, the smell of oily rags used to clean weapons, frosty breath on a crisp early-morning run before daylight. A crowded C-130 packed with troops. The crack of small arms fire, the whoosh of mortars, the power of artillery. A caisson pulling one of the fallen to final rest.
The life of a soldier. The honor of serving. That is what Veteran’s Day means to me. I don’t come from a military family. I originally joined to learn, to travel, to gain experience. But the meaning of service took hold of me. And once it had me, I stayed. I’m proud to say I served in the U.S. Army for 36 years.
It is true that less than one percent of Americans serve today. Of those who do enter the military, probably seventeen percent or less stay for twenty years. But the enormity of those shared experiences, from even one tour of duty, lasts a lifetime. We know what service means: helping a buddy with an outstretched hand, working as a team – then one day, holding a farewell salute for just a second longer, in a private goodbye.
Many years ago when I was a junior captain, I had to conduct retreat with my MPs. On the parade field at Fort Meade Maryland, we stood at parade rest one golden fall afternoon as ‘Retreat’ began to blare from loudspeakers across the post. Across the field there were two small boys with a football. As the music began, they stopped playing and watched us.
The cannon fired.
On the first note of ‘To the Colors’ I saluted and the soldiers brought down the American flag. Far across the bright green field I could see the two boys, standing still.
They were saluting too.
That was the moment I first felt the pull of selfless service. Understood the words ‘protect and defend.’ I resolved to stay and to make a difference.
A woman who serves in the military is in the minority. But I never felt let down. Was never left behind. I soldiered and I did my duty. I know many women who have done the same. This Veterans Day, I salute all of our soldiers, past and present.
Major General Mari K. Eder is a retired United States Army Major General. General Eder was appointed Commanding General of the United States Army Reserve Joint and Special Troops Support Command (redesiginated as the 76th Operational Reserve Command in 2013), Salt Lake City, Utah in October 2009, retiring from the Army in 2012. Prior to assuming command of the USAR Joint and Special Troop Support Command, she was assigned as the Deputy Chief of the US Army Reserve.