FORT RUCKER — “Our people are our greatest strength,” said William Kidd, deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, “and taking care of them and ensuring they’re ready to fight and win our nation’s wars is our top priority.”

Speaking to an audience of retired service members and active-duty military at a ceremony honoring veterans, Kidd said he was reminded of the support system service members enjoy at Fort Rucker that makes the “Home of Army Aviation” feel like home.

He attributed that to the wealth of knowledge and experience provided by combat-seasoned veterans, Army family members, whose grace and support keeps them strong and “deeply patriotic” neighbors in the surrounding Wiregrass communities.

Kidd took the opportunity to remind the audience of Alabama’s role in World War II, in which approximately 300,000 Alabamians served.

Camp Rucker was one of the four main locations that were prisoner-of-war camps housing German and Italian troops captured when they surrendered in North Africa.

POWs worked in the fields of Wiregrass farmers and were often fed home-cooked meals prepared by Wiregrass families.

He highlighted the heroism of Alabama native Ray Lambert, whose D-Day stories are memorialized in his New York Times bestseller “Every Man’s a Hero.”

Lambert served as a medic on the storied day, saving countless lives on Omaha Beach despite being seriously wounded himself.

His stories were celebrated publicly by NPR, Tom Brokaw, CBS’ “This Morning” and President Donald Trump.

“In many ways, Alabamians led the way that historic day on the ground and from the air,” Kidd said.

The lead aircraft that dropped airborne troops on D-Day had an Alabama-native pilot, co-pilot and radio operator, according to Fort Rucker’s lead historian, Ken Tilley.

Veterans representing the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Navy attended the ceremony, which ended with the laying of a wreath and recognizing the retired service members in attendance with songs of the “Armed Forces Medley.”

Educational opportunity

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Otis Smith, Jr., an Army veteran who attended the Friday ceremony, said he was touched by the recognition and that he feels the continued observation of the holiday is important for education and reflection.

Friday morning, Smith and other veterans attended a Veterans Day ceremony at Dauphin Junior High School in Enterprise.

“It allowed us to go into the classrooms and explain to our youth about Veterans Day and its significance, about why we give back to that 1% of Americans who do volunteer to go into the military and serve,” he said. “We talk to them about our time in service. We emphasize the importance of our national anthem and also about our Stars and Stripes, and the importance of that flag and how many have died protecting that flag — our countrymen and our allies.”

Smith, 63, served many tours from 1975 to 2008; the military took him from his home in Ashland to Germany, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq, among others. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Iraq War, and Operation Enduring Freedom, the war on global terrorism.

Smith reflected on losing fellow soldiers on the battlefield.

“I’m allowed to stand here after coming from war. I think about all those soldiers who didn’t come home, and I think about them and their families and what they have to go through,” he said. “I want (people) to know that when you lay down at night to sleep, you go to school every day, when you get out and travel freely up and down the highways and byways, that someone is out there protecting you and your rights.”

Smith added that everyone should take the holiday weekend to contemplate how others’ sacrifices allow them to have freedoms that many may take for granted.

“Today, we pay tribute to our great veterans who have served honorably across all components (of our U.S. military),” Kidd said. “Brave men and women, through tremendous acts of courage and selfless service, are the ones who have paid the price for the freedoms we all hold dear.”

Post’s evolving role

Wrapping up, Kidd turned his speech to talk about Fort Rucker’s role in the future of warfare and the importance in investing in combat modernization.

“We must invest in that future and we must have adequate, predictable, sustainable funding to see that through,” he said. “We owe our sons and daughters the very best training, the best equipment we can give them. They should never have to experience a fair fight.”

He said there is a lot of great work going on at Fort Rucker, as officials prepare to be multi-domain operations capable by 2028.

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