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Voice of Democracy contest winners announced

Feb 09, 2023 10:54AM ● By Gwen Romero

The State winners for this year's Voice of Democracy speech contest were announced last week, and Morgan High School's Jacob Russell took third place overall. Jake comes from a military family and is planning to pursue a career in the Air Force. This personal connection is part of what inspired his speech. 

Jake, and two additional MHS students, Ilana Felt and Elli Lane, placed at the region and district levels to advance to the State competition, where his speech was judged against other students' speeches from bigger districts. Congratulations to Jake and to the other finalists. 

Continue reading to enjoy the speeches themselves.

 Why is The Veteran Important? 

Veterans, you have the bravery to do a job that needs to be done. You risk your lives, relationships, and much more for us to live our everyday lives, and be able to speak freely. You are the reason we have and will continue to have a free country, and why our nation represents unity and strength. 

Our founding fathers fought for our freedom and rights in 1775 giving birth to this free nation and creating the first Veterans after a six year war. 

We have had multiple generations of men and women volunteering themselves to keep our country safe since then. They maintain order, prevent chaos, and keep unstable situations from developing into something worse. 

I would like to share an example of one of our brave Veterans. In January 1945, Audie Murphy seized the gun of a tank destroyer in flames and began firing against the German troops. All the troops expected the whole tank to blow up under him as he continued his one-man attack. He became wounded but didn't let that stop him until he ran out of ammunition. As he walked away from the still-burning tank destroyer, he wondered how he wasn't dead. Murphy had personally killed or wounded at least 50 enemy troops and directed artillery against dozens more. He was named a national hero but later stated, “Bravery is just determination to do a job that you know has to be done. I just fought to stay alive, like anyone else, I guess.”

Just like Murphy, our military service men and women exhibit courageousness and lay their lives on the line for us every day. Being the first to volunteer, they keep America strong. They serve during times of peace and war, protecting the safety and security of our citizens and other citizens around the world. They have fought for the people who couldn’t fight for themselves, some dying and giving up their families to do so. 

Veterans are a group of very devoted people. They are hard working and are always pleased to serve their country in any way or form. They are some of the most selfless people, willing to do anything for this country and its citizens, while putting their lives and families at risk so that we can enjoy our freedom. They are some of the most talented, capable people with invaluable experience. They have gained leadership skills, can deal with stress and pressure, adapt to change, and much more. 

 Why is the Veteran Important? 

The United States of America is a country fabricated from the vision of freedom by its people. A land assembled, by the bricks of liberty, justice, and dreams of a future in which every American in their own right can live in a world of peace. 

In the past, America has been tested time and time again. Many of its trials include The Revolutionary War in 1776, The War of 1812, The Civil War in 1861, the Great War in 1914, World War II in 1939, The Korean War from 1955-1975, The Vietnam War from 1955-1976, and more. We just recently completed our military actions that began in response to the 9/11 attack. Even in our current time of peace, our soldiers are needed as peacekeepers and support in global conflicts such as the war in Ukraine. 

The one thing all of these challenges have in common is the Veteran. Unlike countries where military service is mandatory, our military is currently staffed by people who volunteer to defend our way of life. 

The United States, as a country, has the strongest overall military in the world at this date. Sustaining the most powerful military requires many officers and soldiers. 

This elite force is not comprised of mundane citizens. It takes loyalty to your country; it takes a sense of duty and respect. They require integrity, personal courage, honor, and selfless service–the kind of service that may even demand the sacrifice of a shortened life. 

  The veterans of America are that definition to a T. 

My great-uncle fought on the beaches of Normandy during World War II. Later, while stationed with General Patton’s force in Northern Africa, he drove a tank over a land mine triggering a massive explosion, nearly ending his life. He was taken home severely wounded and with a case of amnesia. His dog tags weren’t found on his person, and the explosion had damaged his face to the point of non-recognition. It took a month of recovery in the veteran’s hospital in Brigham City before someone recognized him, and that began the path toward him ultimately remembering his past and being reunited with his family in Mount Pleasant, Utah. 

His story was tragic, yet sadly, common. Many of our people lose bits and pieces of themselves through war. Some come home without fingers to count, and some return without their ability to see, walk, hear, smell, or touch. These sacrifices they give are meant to protect all of us. 

Along with physical damage, many veterans face lasting consequences less visible than missing limbs or scars. 11-20% of veterans come home with PTSD. The horrors of war can be difficult to shake. Many deal with flashbacks, anxiety, and combative or protective behavior. This can result in difficulties maintaining healthy relationships or even in maintaining steady employment. 

Even worse, veterans are at a 57% higher risk of dying by suicide than those who never serve in the military. According to the VA, 6,146 veterans died by suicide in 2020 alone. Though only about one percent of the US population serves in the armed forces, that number represented 16% of all suicides that year. Even my Great-Uncle who returned from war, married, and raised three children ultimately died by suicide. 

Our veterans deserve not only our gratitude but also steady funding to support their physical and mental needs throughout their life. 

Even with all the trials our veterans face, many members of the public take their service for granted and fail to recognize the luxury we have due to them. 

That mighty one percent is the very reason we can take walks in the park. They fought so that we can work our jobs, pursue our dreams, and have time with our friends and family. The freedoms we enjoy are not free. They are paid for by the noble men and women who serve to protect the constitution. It is because of them that we have the opportunity to wake up every morning with a smile on our faces with the quality of life that they preserve so honorably. 

Of course, it’s valid to focus on “Why the Veteran is Important.” I would further the question to ask: “What do we owe because of them?”

Why are Veterans Important? 

Do you have someone, for example, a friend or a family member who would do just about anything for you? To protect and serve you no matter what? Veterans are those people who would do everything and anything for our country and for us. They have done and sacrificed so much, all for this amazing country. It is very important that we as Americans make sure they know how much that means to us. Without them, we wouldn’t have most, if not all, of the amazing luxuries and freedoms we have today. 

From conflicts like the American Revolution to conflicts like World War I, World War II, and many others, American veterans have done and continue to do outstanding services for this country to protect what we know and love. They have made tremendous sacrifices for our country. We owe a huge debt to the heroes of this country we call veterans. 

Throughout American history, more than 650,000 soldiers have given their lives for this country. Around another 243,000 American soldiers have given their lives while wars were being fought. Most, if not all, of these virtuous soldiers had families and friends back home. They didn’t even get to say goodbye. They left to serve their country not knowing whether or not they were going to ever see their loved ones again. If that’s not the definition of a hero then I don’t know what is. 

A veteran named Joey Hooker served in and joined the Army National Guard in 1986 where he got the rank of staff sergeant. He eventually led himself and his soldiers into Iraq in 2003. Joey was very good at accomplishing things and getting stuff done. According to Joey himself, he said, “The guys called me Sergeant Rock because I could be hard on them. We had to buckle down and get it right. No messing around. I didn’t want to go to war with those guys not knowing what to do.” Joey is a very good example of the hard work and dedication our veterans have for our country. 

This hard work and dedication that Joey displayed for his country paid off leading him and his troops to return home from Iraq. However, four months into being deployed, he injured his back when jumping off of his truck because they were under small arms fire. He stayed in Iraq and tried to keep going through the pain for four more months before finding out he had broken his C-7 vertebra. He was then taken to Germany for medical treatment. He fought and gave everything for his country even through intense injury and pain. Joey and other veterans are all heroes in their own way. 

While being flown to Germany, Joey met a young soldier who had a piece of shrapnel stuck in his neck. This young soldier kept asking “Why me?” while holding Joey’s hand. Once they finally arrived in Germany, the young soldier unfortunately passed away. Joey felt intense survivor's guilt. His survivor’s guilt mixed with him risking his life every single day caused him to have post-traumatic stress disorder, or otherwise known as, PTSD. His PTSD caused him to join the Wounded Warrior Project. Joey loved it because he was able to become a leader again while helping people just like him. 

Veterans are all around us, some like Joey, some not. Every single one of them are heroes and have made tremendous sacrifices for us. They would do, and have done anything and everything they can to help protect us and the things we know and love. 

All of us should be showing the same pride and love for our country that our veterans are, seeing as that nationalism is what led us to have the freedoms we have in this amazing country we live in. 

I challenge each and every one of you to find a veteran near you and show extra gratitude and appreciation for them. We as Americans need to show proper gratitude and appreciation for the loyalty shown, sacrifices made, and hard work displayed by our amazing veterans. We all need to express our gratitude not just on this Veteran’s Day, but every single chance you get. For without them, we wouldn’t have this perfect nation we call the United States of America.

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