By Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle Managing Editor:
(El Paso, Texas, Nov. 16, 2017)
Retired 1st Sgt. Mario Ornelas had a big smile on his face as he shook the hand of Lt. Col. Thomas Caldwell, commander, 4th Battalion, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, at the Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home in El Paso Saturday.
It was Veterans Day, and Ornelas and roughly 100 other residents had gathered in the outside courtyard for a ceremony with about 20 Soldiers from Caldwell’s unit, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, deputy commandant, U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, politicians, a group of cheerleaders and many more.
“We’re all here together, still alive,” Ornelas said in an interview. “A lot of people have passed, but we’re still here.”
And he was clearly happy for the company on Veterans Day.
Ornelas, who served with the 1st Infantry Division, did two tours in Vietnam and had no qualms returning for his second tour after getting shot during his first.
“They said I was crazy,” Ornelas said, “but I didn’t worry about it. I had too many friends lost.”
Spc. David Johnson, assigned to 4th Bn., 1st FA Regt., 3rd BCT, 1st AD, said having the opportunity to talk to veterans like Ornelas was one of the reasons he enjoyed volunteering with his unit at the veterans’ home Saturday. He and others helped bring residents out to the ceremony and made sure they were comfortable.
“I think it’s been an amazing opportunity because I’ve heard a lot of great stories from several of the residents and it just gives me a different perspective on where they were in their career at my age compared to where I am right now,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he plans to volunteer again.
Caldwell spoke at the ceremony’s opening, thanking the veterans for their service.
“Without you, there’s no us, so thank you for paving the way,” Caldwell said.
First Lt. Tiara Tompkins-Bradley, assigned to 4th Bn., 1st FA Regt., 3rd BCT, 1st AD, said she was glad to help at the home on Veterans Day.
“I think it’s important to do this so that we remember everybody who made sacrifices and some that made the ultimate sacrifice,” Tompkins-Bradley said. “And it’s just great to give back to the community and let the veterans know that we still appreciate them, and we still think about them.”
U.S. Rep. William Hurd, who represents the 23rd District of Texas, also thanked the veterans for their service, and talked to the 10 members of the Bears cheerleading squad into giving the veterans a big cheer by calling out, “God bless America.” State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, who represents El Paso in Texas Senate District 29, also spoke, and County Commissioner Andrew Haggerty served as master of ceremonies.
Huggins said he wanted the veterans to know that not only are Americans grateful, but people around the world have told him how much they appreciate the help of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“From Normandy to Prague, to Germany to Poland, the Atlantic to the Pacific, to Panama to Haiti, Iraq to Afghanistan and many others, they all said something you don’t hear enough,” Huggins said. “They said, ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for what you’ve done for them and thank you for what we will do in the future.”