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Border mission Guardsmen serve communities on Veterans Day

A child moves to get a closer look at Arizona citizen soldiers in formation during the opening ceremony of the Veterans Memorial at the Pasqua Yaqui Cemetery, Nov. 11. Soldiers from various units, including those serving on Operation Copper Cactus, volunteered their off duty time to support the community event. In attendance were local tribal leaders, representatives from veterans’ service organizations and local civic leaders. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Desiree Twombly)

A child moves to get a closer look at Arizona citizen soldiers in formation during the opening ceremony of the Veterans Memorial at the Pasqua Yaqui Cemetery, Nov. 11. Soldiers from various units, including those serving on Operation Copper Cactus, volunteered their off duty time to support the community event. In attendance were local tribal leaders, representatives from veterans’ service organizations and local civic leaders. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Desiree Twombly)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Veterans Day in many communities is marked by events to honor and observe the sacrifices made by all our veterans. Arizona Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen serving on Operation Copper Cactus know the meaning of service, especially when it comes to supporting their local communities.

On Nov. 10, Wilson Elementary School hosted a "Red, White and Blue Assembly" to commemorate Veterans Day. Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen volunteered their off duty time to participate in the school event.

Holly Bedford, a teacher and the assembly coordinator, said the students practiced singing for many hours for the event. "Having the Guardsmen at the school is a huge deal," said Bedford.

"I'm so glad they came. We wanted the kids to experience a sense of patriotism and love of their country, and to have the opportunity to thank the soldiers in person," said Bedford.

Students honored Guardsmen for their service to nation and community with a song titled "Thank You Soldiers," and with thank you notes in the shape of hands. At the end of the assembly, Guardsmen lined up outside the auditorium and gave each student a high-five for their support.

Kayla Tilicki, a seventh grade student at the school, says she is grateful she participated in the school assembly. Her uncle is currently serving in Iraq. She had an opportunity to introduce him during the assembly via Skype, and welcomed OCC members to the audience.

"Veterans are all special for helping us. We are glad we can thank them in person," said Tilicki.

Airman 1st Class Adams serves as an administrative specialist for OCC. He often volunteers for community service opportunities made known by the Guard.

"Community service opportunities are often announced to us while serving on the OCC mission. This was an awesome event to participate in. It's nice to have the community invite us and then pat us on the back for our service," said Adams.

Spc. Brooks, an entry identification team member, has been on mission since August. Volunteering at the school on Veterans Day is especially meaningful for him. His family has served in the armed forces for eight generations and his brother is currently serving in Iraq, a fact he proudly shared with students.

"It's interesting and exciting to see how the children react to our presence. I'm so thankful for their support," said Brooks.

The following day, Nov. 11, OCC Soldiers and Airmen again volunteered their off duty time to support a community event, this time for the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe Veterans Day activities.

The day's events began with an F-16 flyby from Arizona's 162nd Fighter Wing and a dedication ceremony for the newly-built veterans' memorial at the Pasqua Yaqui cemetery. OCC soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with other Arizona Guardsmen and local veterans groups representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and tribal council members.

Sgt. Brito, Spc. Canizales, Spc. Oliveros and Pfc. Herrera all work together at an EIT site. When the opportunity presented itself, all four soldiers jumped at the chance to represent the Guardsmen serving on the border mission.

"When I mentioned this event to the guys at the site, they all said 'Let's go!'" said Brito.

"We all work together on a site and so volunteering together is no different. We all agreed to support and commemorate the veterans' memorial event. It's fun to get out and interact with people in the community," said Pfc. Herrera.

David Ramirez is a retired Air Guardsman and Pasqua Yaqui Tribal Council member who organizes Veterans Day events every year. This year is particularly special for the community because of the completion of the veterans' memorial.

"Love for our country has been instilled in us by our forefathers. Veterans representing all branches of service are here. We are glad the Guardsmen came to this event. They are good examples for the youth in our community," said Ramirez.

Following the ceremony, OCC soldiers led a procession of military vehicles in the local parade. Community members lined the streets and cheered the Guardsmen as they drove by. The parade started at the cemetery and ended at the Casino Del Sol Hotel, where parade participants and veterans were treated with music and refreshments.

While the border mission is scheduled to end Dec. 31, Brito says his mission to community is indefinite and he appreciates their support.

"I don't ask for recognition. It just feels good to help the community," said Brito.

Other noteworthy events involving OCC members took place during the Veterans Day weekend. In Sierra Vista, the Applebee's and Texas Roadhouse restaurants provided free meals to Guardsmen working at EIT sites in Douglas and Naco. Staff Sgt. Tack and Spec. Eacock, both OCC soldiers, picked up and delivered the meals to Guardsmen working along the border.

OCC soldiers also supported German Remembrance Day activities held at the Regional Training Institute, Arizona Military Museum, at the Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix, Nov. 13. The event centered on a wreath laying ceremony inside the museum to honor and remember German and American soldiers lost during World War II. Sgt. 1st Class Frapier, a senior enlisted supervisor on the border mission, volunteered to lay a wreath on the display in the museum.