Every month, I search for inspiration to write something worth reading in this column. Given the title, you might think it was easy this month, as Veterans Day and Thanksgiving are both special days in November. However, that would not be the whole story. It is true that November is a month to give thanks, and I have a lot to be thankful for.
I am thankful that I have the privilege of serving the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, and to be able to lead the amazing men and women who work tirelessly to keep your power Reliable, Affordable and Responsible.
I am thankful that I have a great wife, kids and grandkids who make me proud every day, and remind me that life is about having people who truly care about you and not dollars and cents. I am thankful that I get to live in the great state of Arkansas, with its beautiful landscapes and communities full of friendly, hardworking people — people whose values and common-sense approach to life remind me of my childhood growing up on a farm in rural Iowa. I am thankful for my local community and for my church, New Life Baptist Church in Alexander, and all it does to serve the community.
I am thankful for my mail carrier, Mike, after all, my father was a mail carrier. But we share another connection. My family did not live in Arkansas when my son, Nick, served in the U.S. Army. Nick relocated his family to Arkansas after Tracy and I moved here to ensure that his kids had the chance to grow up around grandparents, something that he and his siblings did not get to do with my Navy career. One day, Nick saw his old Army buddy, Mike, post on Facebook about the weather in Arkansas. He had no idea Mike was in Arkansas and messaged him to ask where he lived. Surprise, they both live in Bryant. They quickly connected in person, and it was then we learned that Mike is our mail carrier. Mike confided in me that he loves reading Arkansas Living, but also impressed upon me how much work it is for him and the other mail carriers to deliver all these magazines. So, to Mike and all the other mail carriers who deliver our magazine across Arkansas every month, we are thankful for you.
Given the challenges around the world right now, with the war in Ukraine, the war in Israel and conflict all around the globe, I am most thankful that I was born in America, with all the rights and freedoms and quality of life that those of us who were born here take for granted. This is where the story comes full circle back to Veterans Day and the inspiration for this month’s article.
I recently traveled to Nevada to speak about Supply Chain and Energy Policy (Balance of Power) topics at the Nevada Rural Electric Association’s annual meeting. Following my presentation, a cooperative director made her way to the front of the room to talk with me and thank me for my service. She also handed me a “challenge coin,” representing Veterans Helping Veterans, an organization that she supports and whose primary mission is to bring awareness to suicide and homelessness within the veteran community. What this director did not know was that this summer, my nephew, Jeremy — an Army Ranger who served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, and a father — took his own life on his 37th birthday. Jeremy struggled with PTSD, and while he had transitioned to civilian life, he ultimately lost the battle. Jeremy is missed and remembered by a large and loving family, and I want to thank his mother, Beverly, for giving me permission to tell his story in our magazine.
The courage of this caring cooperative director in Nevada to discuss this issue with me — and the fact that it is also personal for me — inspired this month’s column. More than 6,000 veterans die by suicide every year, and statistics show that veteran suicide rates are double those of the general population.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense have made this a priority and are taking actions to increase public awareness and to provide resources. One of these resources is the Veterans Crisis Line, which is available anytime day or night. So, if you are a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, you can connect with the Veterans Crisis Line responders for free, confidential help. You can call 988 and select 1, or text 838255, or chat online.
An article I read by Rajeev Ramchand stated that one of the most proven and effective strategies to reduce suicide is to promote a life worth living. This really resonated with me. Our military members leave home and family behind and serve all around the world in tough situations, and it is easy to get displaced. Understanding this and welcoming them home and going above and beyond to integrate them back into family and community is important. However, some issues require professional help, and that is what the VA and other mental health professionals can provide. I am proud that the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas support our veterans, and we hire and actively recruit veterans to work for the cooperatives. Replacing the mission of maintaining national security with a mission of providing Reliable, Affordable and Responsible power and services to rural Arkansans promotes a life worth living, a life with purpose.
Freedom isn’t free, and I am thankful for all our veterans who proudly and selflessly serve our great nation every day. I wish them and all of you a very happy Thanksgiving this year and pray that you, too, find things to be thankful for.