A tradition of loyalty and bravery

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A column by Gov. Steve Beshear

Veterans Day this year has a sense of urgency about it. This nation is at war.
And thousands of miles from Kentucky, in the deserts of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan, soldiers are dying on our behalf and on behalf of all who support right and good in the world.
The numbers are staggering.
Last month, we mourned the loss of the 100th Kentuckian killed on military duty in Iraq and Afghanistan since those wars began nine years ago.
Furthermore, some 75 soldiers from units stationed at Fort Campbell have been killed since they were deployed in March.
These deaths fill me with immense grief ... but also pride and hope.
As governor of this state, a former member of the U.S. Army Reserve and a citizen of this great nation, I am awed by the courage, dedication and sacrifice of these soldiers - just as every Kentuckian should be.
Where do we get such wonderful men and women of character, who so courageously volunteer to stand up to defend our country and its ideals?
With unflinching resolve, these soldiers are continuing a tradition of loyalty and bravery that has become a badge of honor for Kentuckians throughout our nation's history.
Nearly two-thirds of the Americans killed in the War of 1812 were Kentuckians, even though the state was never invaded. And in every conflict since, sons and daughters of the Bluegrass have been on the front lines, as they are today.
In fact, Kentucky is home to more than 339,000 living veterans.
Each of them deserves our gratitude and our respect. They are our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family.
There is much hardship and misery in this world, and free people everywhere are threatened by those who would take that freedom away, who would drape this world in a cloak of fear and darkness.
But the power of our enemies pales in the face of the courage and dedication to duty demonstrated by these soldiers and their families.
And so I neither fret nor despair about the future of this state and this world.
This Veterans Day, and every day, we in Kentucky should honor such service.
This is a huge debt. We can never repay it. Nor can we, in words or deeds, fully express our appreciation. But we can try.
In small but tangible ways, state government over the last three years has shown its support by helping soldiers, veterans and their families deal with financial hardships, overcome logistical nightmares and gain deserving recognition.
We have:
- Exempted active duty military personnel from paying Kentucky income tax.
- Legislated preference for veterans seeking employment at state agencies.
- Expanded the uses of the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund for things such as allowing our service members to visit their families and communicate with them overseas.
- Ensured that combat veterans charged with a crime have access to counseling and other assistance.
- Opened two new state-run veterans cemeteries while pursuing another, moving closer to our goal of having a veterans cemetery within 75 miles of every Kentucky family.
- Started to add 36 beds at one of our long-term care facilities for veterans.
- Created license plates to recognize medal winners and parents of soldiers.
- Created the Kentucky Medal for Freedom to honor soldiers killed since 1991 on active duty.
- Partnered with the "Give An Hour" program, a national effort to encourage mental health-care providers to help service members who suffer from post-deployment mental health issues.
- Established an Indigent Veterans' Burial Program and trust fund.
u Joined the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children to help students adapt to changing schools when their parents transfer.
- Made it a crime via the Stolen Valor Act to misuse military status to commit fraud.
- Given disabled veterans free stays at State Parks.
Citizens of the Commonwealth can do their part as well. On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, thank a veteran for their service. And participate in community celebrations. You can find Veterans Day events throughout the Commonwealth listed at www.veterans.ky.gov. In addition, learn about the Thank a Veteran at Work initiative at www.veterans.com.
If you want to make a monetary contribution, you can contribute to the Kentucky Veterans Program Trust Fund at your local county clerk's office or at www.veterans.ky.gov.
And finally, visit www.redcross.org/holidaymail to learn how you can send Christmas cards to soldiers overseas.
Every day, but especially this Thursday, these men and women deserve our gratitude.
And please, remember our men and women overseas - including members of the Kentucky National Guard and Army Reserve units - and their families here at home.