Many Nebraskans have heard of the Bronze Star Medal that is awarded to members of the military. But this week I want to highlight its history and the level of courage, character and honor required to receive the award.

Col. Russell Reeder was the commander of a 3,000-man regiment that landed on Utah beach on D-Day. After landing, he quickly realized they were in the wrong landing area — nearly two miles south of their objective. As his troops were awaiting his direction, the colonel said, “It doesn’t matter. We know where to go.”

He was wounded in battle and stationed in Washington, D.C., for the remainder of World War II. While there, Reeder developed the idea of an award to recognize service members who display exceptional leadership and courage while deployed in dangerous regions of the world — just as he did on D-Day.

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing what we recognize today as one of the most honorable awards that can be earned by our men and women of the armed forces — the Bronze Star Medal.

Recently, I had the honor of joining the Nebraska Air National Guard’s 155th Air Refueling Wing as they celebrated their accomplishments, and most importantly, the safe return home of more than 300 citizen airmen from numerous deployments overseas in the past 15 months.

During the ceremony, three airmen were presented with Bronze Star Medals for their achievements and heroic service in combat zones: Maj. Ryan Watson, Master Sgt. Thomas Thompson and Lt. Col. Barry Veen. All three were deployed to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

In my last column, I spoke of how our Nebraska National Guard’s service overseas and rapid response to help our neighbors escape catastrophic flooding last spring revealed their character and integrity. Those qualities were evident once again in the words of these three Bronze Star Medal recipients, and I’d like to share them with you.

Maj. Watson said this: “I’m proud of my unit. I’m proud of the squadron who all went downrange with some level of danger and couldn’t be more proud to stand in front of them.”

“I appreciate the award very much, but again, I can’t stress enough the reason I was awarded this is because of the fantastic team I was deployed with,” Thompson said. “I would go anywhere, anytime, anyplace with them.”

“Quite frankly, we just went out there and did the job we were asked to do,” said Lt. Col. Veen. “All the credit goes to them.”

He went on, “Overseas, it becomes a challenge because you’re in a foreign country … There’s always challenges with the creature comforts of life we take for granted here in America, but those quickly fade once you get on-task and on-mission and know what your job is and you trust the people around you.”

When I read Lt. Col. Veen’s words, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Col. Reeder, the creator of the Bronze Star Medal award. They understood the growing challenges and were devoted to their mission all the more. They knew where to go.

Last week, we paused to remember the heroes and the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Our world has changed since then. But as long as we have selfless, dedicated men and women serving in our armed forces like these Nebraska Bronze Star Medal recipients, I know our nation will always overcome evil.

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