May 27, 2005

Commentary:

Honoring Our Heroes

“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

President John F. Kennedy, October 25, 1963

By Cruz M. Bustamante
Lieutenant Governor
State of California

May is the month during which we honor many of the people who keep us safe-at home and overseas-in turbulent times of war, as well as in peaceful chapters of our nation’s history. The peace officers, firefighters, and the humanitarians who keep operations like the Red Cross running strong are all being acknowledged this month for their extraordinary efforts. World Red Cross Day (May 8) reminds us that we could all give of our time or resources to help the less fortunate. Armed Forces Day (May 21) and Memorial Day (May 30) prompt us to pay tribute to the members of the armed forces, including those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty to protect our freedoms.

Regardless of your views on our current military agenda, our troops and their families need your encouragement and assistance while they endure this difficult period. As you know, many of our troops routinely face deadly situations in Afghanistan and Iraq-accounts of which often are recounted in graphic detail in the daily headlines. Unfortunately, their families also are struggling at home with the harsh reality that their loved ones could be away for greatly extended tours of duty or may not return at all.

California Military Family Relief Act

As the sponsor of the successful legislation that created the California Military Family Relief Fund, I was extremely pleased that a number of Californians were able to donate to the families of our National Guard members this year by using the convenient check-off option on their state tax return forms. If you were one of the countless Californians who made a donation to support this charitable program, I thank you for your goodwill and generosity. The families who will receive these funds have found that they are in great financial need, due to the lengthy deployment of the primary breadwinners from their households.

Memorial Grove Ceremonies

Throughout the month of May, I have been hosting Memorial Grove ceremonies in cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, San Francisco and Sacramento, to pay homage to those Californians who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am proud that, through the generosity of those at the Home Depot and the Department of California Veterans of Foreign Wars, we have been able to plant groves of trees and place plaques across our Golden State to honor these brave Californians. I am honored to be a part of this program and to have the opportunity to speak to the family members and help provide something of lasting beauty to memorialize the loved ones they have lost.

Cal Grants for Veterans

This year, I am sponsoring legislation that will aid both returning veterans and the families of troops about to be deployed. AB 1436 (Baca) will make available surplus Cal-Grant entitlement awards for education to any California resident who has been honorably discharged from active military service. I am hoping that the Cal-Vet program will allow the men and women who have sacrificed their time and taken great risks in service to our country an opportunity to better their lives through higher education.

California Military Families Financial Relief Act

I am also sponsoring AB 306 (Baca), the California Military Families Financial Relief Act. This legislation will allow service members ordered to active duty after September 11, 2001, to delay payments on mortgages, credit cards, auto loans or property taxes while serving on active duty. A recent Pentagon survey found that 31% of families of reservists and National Guard members see a decrease in income when a spouse is called to duty. I do not believe that any Californian should be subjected to financial hardship as a result of their commitment to our country.

Body Armor for Soldiers

Regardless of how you feel about military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, we all support our troops serving this country. Although statistics are not readily available on the total percentage of military deployment by state, it is known that California families have had to bear the burden of more than 25% of the American fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have become involved in efforts to get our troops the protective body armor they need to face combat situations. Currently, our troops are using 1970s technology, which consists of a vest with a metal plate in the front and back. This armor is heavy and doesn’t protect our soldiers from the side, or on the neck or shoulders. There is equipment today that many families are purchasing-new technology body armor (a hybrid Aramid vest, with overlapping titanium and ceramic discs, touted to be 40% lighter and offer 120% more protection)-through Pinnacle Body Armor, a California company, at a cost of $4,600-$5,000 each, to protect their loved ones.

Although I was pleased that Congress has authorized the Department of Defense to mandate reimbursement to service members (up to $1,100. per item) for personal protection equipment, I don’t believe that families should have to “chip in” thousands of dollars for basic military protective equipment. I encourage you to voice your concerns about the lack of adequate body armor to your federal representative, and to the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. You may contact him at 1000 Defense Pentagon, Room 3E880, Washington, DC 20301.

Peace Officers’ Memorial

California peace officers often face perilous conditions as they patrol our streets and highways. These public servants deal with the most dangerous side of our society. We don’t even know their names, yet they risk making the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of their duties. I was honored to be featured as a speaker at the California Highway Patrol’s annual memorial service on May 5, and also participated in the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Day gathering the following day. It is humbling to spend time with the children, spouses, parents, friends and colleagues of these courageous officers. Their loss... has been our loss.

Firefighters’ Memorial Day

May 22 was California Firefighters’ Memorial Day. Certainly, the fine men and women of our fire departments deserve great recognition for their meritorious efforts. They are often first on the scene in so many life-threatening emergencies, including forest fires, house fires and serious accidents. Please join me in thanking them, should the opportunity arise.

Pensions Saved for Now

In light of all that our public safety servants do for the people of California, I am relieved that the Governor dropped his ill-conceived pension initiative. It would have deprived the families of police officers and firefighters injured or killed in the line of duty of death and disability benefits. The Governor has indicated that his priority this year is to pass a “paycheck protection” initiative in this November’s special election. Some believe this to be a tactical retreat and that he’ll offer a pension reduction measure on next year’s ballot.

Do Something Nice for a Soldier or Public Servant

In honor of Memorial Day this year, I encourage you to display your flag proudly, but also to do something thoughtful for the brave folks who put their lives on the line for us each and every day. For example, you could visit the “Adopt a Soldier” Web site at: http://adoptasoldier.com/ for ideas on what kinds of care packages are needed. Many soldiers would appreciate receiving any sort of communication from their fellow Americans. Besides that, if you have a neighbor whose husband or wife is serving overseas, a kind word of encouragement, or perhaps an offer to provide a home-cooked meal or help with yard work or errands may be very welcome. Some schools have organized fundraisers to help the families of fallen soldiers. And, you can spread the word on donating to the Military Family Relief Act, where 100% of your donation goes to military families with financial emergencies.

Visit a Veteran

I recently visited the Veterans who live at the Veterans Home in Chula Vista. I can tell you that many of these folks really appreciate having some company and would welcome more visitors. Please consider arranging for a visit sometime soon to one of the three California Veterans Homes listed below:

The Veterans Home of California, Barstow
100 E. Veterans Parkway
Barstow, CA 92311
1-800-746-0606

The Veterans Home of California, Yountville
P.O. Box 1200
Yountville, CA 94599
1-800-404-8387

The Veterans Home of California, Chula Vista
700 East Naples Court
Chula Vista, CA 91911
1-888-857-2147

These are just some suggestions, but I’m sure you can think of other generous ways to show your appreciation.

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