Martha Mault stands at attention for the national anthem during a Veterans Day service at the Soldotna Sports Center Friday morning. Mault severed in the Army Air Corp. during World War II.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Speaking to 300 people attending a Veteran’s Day ceremony at the Soldotna Sports Center, Army Sgt. 1st Class Troy Zimmerman told of the despair and the hope he saw while serving in Iraq recently with the Alaska Army National Guard.
Zimmerman, a Nikiski High School history teacher whose National Guard unit was activated in August 2004, said he was a platoon sergeant responsible for 40 soldiers in a hostile corner of Baghdad.
“I saw an entire neighborhood of widows with their small children whose fathers had been killed by Saddam Hussein,” Zimmerman said.
“I saw a Shiite neighborhood of filth, dilapidated housing and extreme poverty.
“I saw a Sunni neighborhood of ornate, beautiful housing, nice cars and wealth.
“I saw children and adults alike come out of their homes to greet us and thank us for the work we are doing to keep ‘Ali Babba’ out of their neighborhood.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Troy Zimmerman speaks about his Iraq war experiences during the ceremony.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“I witnessed this firsthand, seven months ago,” he said.
Zimmerman then read from a letter he received from one of the soldiers in his platoon, who is still in Iraq.
The soldier said much has changed since Zimmerman left.
The soldier has seen a new fresh water project completed in one area, an addition completed on a junior high school in another and people out working to build new homes.
“When we first got here, we never saw any Iraqi soldiers,” the letter writer said.
“Now we see Iraqi National Guard soldiers, Iraqi police and Iraqi special forces out patrolling all the time.
“We just need to stay the course and help them a little longer,” the writer said.
Zimmerman, who was summoned home by a message from the Red Cross in April, reporting his 7-year-old son, Dakota, had been diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a terminal genetic brain disorder, said he and his family have grasped a “celebrate life” mind-set.
“Let us give thanks to the veterans of our great nation (who) have given so much to ensure that we can continue to celebrate life every day,” he said.
Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey also spoke during the ceremony, saying a day does not go by when he does not think of his father who he never knew who was shot down as a Navy pilot.
Carey urged people to ensure returning veterans receive the medical care they need and said people must take care of spouses and children of those serving in the military.
Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, who said she was raised as “an Army kid,” as her father served in the military, read a proclamation asking “citizens of Kenai to say thank you to our veterans.”
Popular Alaska entertainer, and “Alaska’s Ambassador to Iraq” Hobo Jim presented a ballad he wrote about the American soldier, saying, because of soldiers’ service to the country, “freedom will stand without fear against all foes.”
The public speeches were followed by a laying of wreaths by central Kenai Peninsula veterans organizations, including American Legion Post No. 20 in Kenai, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046 in Soldotna, AMVETS Post No. 4 on Kalifornsky Beach Road, Prisoner of War-Missing in Action unit, Legion and VFW Auxiliary units and Dave Caswell of the Vet Center.
An honor guard made up of veterans from the American Legion and VFW posts fired a rifle salute outside the center as “Taps” were played by bugler Tim Wisniewski.
Barbara Brinkerhoff, widow of ex-POW Russell Brinkerhoff, read the POW-MIA Prayer, saying, “In remembering our veterans, we know that freedom is not free.”
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