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Computer science education still not in many Wyoming classrooms — nearly 18 months after bill signed

in Education/News/Technology
computer science standards
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Learning computer code, using it to create programs and understanding how information is broken down and delivered by networks are just some of the dozens of computer science lessons that could be taught in Wyoming public schools. 

However, the speed of creating statewide computer science and computational thinking standards isn’t exactly gigahertz per second. 

Nearly 18 months have passed since then-Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill creating the standards. Since then, they have been written and rewritten. But for the past five months, the Wyoming State Board of Education has been in a holding pattern, waiting for Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to opine about whether they could pass a constitutional challenge.

There’s no word yet from Hill, who didn’t return a message about why a formal opinion from her office is taking so long, or what that opinion will be. 

On Friday, Wyoming education officials are to testify before the Joint Education Committee, meeting in Cheyenne, about their progress. The committee sponsored the 2018 bill that created the standards

“We’d like to know what the delay is,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, a committee chairman. “We’d like to know what was in the (request) to the attorney general and what the attorney general’s decision is because it could affect all standards in Wyoming.”

After the bill was signed, a committee of computer scientists, teachers and others looked at computer science education standards in other states – such as Oklahoma – and at recommendations by professional associations. They used those to create Wyoming’s proposed standards. 

In January, the state school board sent the standards out for public comment. Elementary school teachers had concerns about learning the various new requirements when they have to teach other subjects as well. The committee returned to the drawing board between March and April.

The committee released another draft of the standards – some would be mandatory, some would support the mandatory standards but would not be mandatory, and some would be “enhanced,” which would also be optional.

Two Wyoming Attorney General office lawyers who advise the board were concerned that they were unconstitutional, since some school districts would be able to offer all the standards and others would only be able to offer the mandatory ones. The Wyoming Constitution requires public instruction to be “uniform.”

In June, the state board wrote a letter to Hill, asking her to study the issue and write a formal opinion.  

“We believe that will help us — not just with computer science but with other requirements,” said Sue Belish, state board vice chair.

Lawmakers and education officials need Hill’s guidance because creating mandatory and supplementary standards could affect education in other subjects besides computer science. 

Another likely delay

But even if Hill could clear up the board’s questions in short order, it may still take a while for computer science education to arrive in some Wyoming classrooms, said Astrid Northrup, an engineering professor at Northwest College in Powell.

Northrup, who is married to Rep. Northrup, was involved with efforts at the University of Wyoming to look at computer science teaching standards even before the effort was under way with the state board. 

Some school districts, especially those already teaching computer science, will be ready to adapt to the standards. Others will have to catch up, she said. The Wyoming Professional Standards Teaching Board has computer science teaching criteria. It may be unrealistic, however, for elementary school teachers, she said. 

“I think we have to lock that down,” she said. “I think that piece needs to be locked down in a realistic manner.”

Change in the air? Business Forum explores how to move Wyoming forward

in Economic development/News
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By Cowboy State Daily

An annual meeting of the state’s business leaders this week provided plenty of opportunities for discussions about the changes Wyoming is facing.

Attendees at the Governor’s Business Forum in Cheyenne shared thoughts and ideas on how the state should prepare to meet the challenges of the future.

Such changes do not have to occur at the expense of the state’s quality of life, said Cindy DeLancey, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance, the group that hosted the gathering.

“We’re cowboys and cowgirls,” she said. “We love so many things about Wyoming, but we also realize the world is changing around us. We can still be cowboys and be ready for 21st century  jobs and make sure our children have the skills and the foundation to be able to be good, productive citizens for the next generation.”

For such change to happen, gatherings such as the Business Forum are necessary, said Laurie Farkas, community affairs manager for Black Hills Energy.

“I think when we get together and start really thinking about the issues critically, that’s when change, especially good change, can happen,” she said.

Among those taking part in the conversation were students from the University Wyoming.

Rudy Nesvik, a UW freshman studying mechanical engineering, said the state should work to bring in businesses that would help lure new residents with advanced degrees.

“I think that Wyoming can look at attracting some of those manufacturing businesses to bring in more engineers,” he said. “We can have this focus on career and technical education, but I think we should also keep in mind other industries and other ways we can grow into the future.”

Kaci Schmick agreed the state needs to work harder to find businesses that would keep Wyoming youth in the state.

“We’re really just trying to get people to stay in Wyoming,” said the UW freshman. “A lot of jobs students want, they have to leave the state to find those jobs.”

Legislative committee approves Medicaid expansion plan

in Health care/News/Taxes
2359

CHEYENNE — A plan to expand Medicaid coverage to about 19,000 Wyoming residents won approval from a legislative committee on Tuesday.

The Legislature’s Revenue Committee voted 8-5 to send to the full Legislature a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage at a cost of about $154 million for two years. Federal funds would cover about $136 million of the cost, with the state picking up the remaining $18 million.

Supporters argued that given declines in the state’s mineral industry, residents will need the extra assistance provided by expanded Medicaid coverage.

“I think the coal bankruptcies up in the northeast have made people sit back and think a little bit differently about our economy,” said committee member Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie. “We know that people are going to lose their jobs. We know it. Every bit of information points to it.”

Marcie Kindred, a Cheyenne Democrat who plans to run for the state House of Representatives, said the state owes it to its residents to provide assistance.

“I’m really lucky that I have a network of support of people to help me get out of that cycle of poverty,” said Kincaid, a mother of four who has relied on Medicaid coverage. “But what about the people that don’t have that network of support, that don’t have that health (coverage)? We, as citizens of Wyoming, have to care for our own. We have to be that support and turn back and pull them out.”

Opponents of the measure argued that the state will have to pick up a larger share of the expense should the federal government reduce its level of support.

“The federal government does not have the money for this,” said Karl Allred, a former state representative from Evanston. “Eventually, that’s going to go away. And once you’re into it, you can’t get out really effectively. Are you going to tell people all of a sudden now that you’ve been giving them health care and now you’re going to take it away?”

Bob Wharff, a lobbyist from Evanston, agreed.

“If we become dependent and reliant upon the government to fulfill that and it falls apart, there’s no other safety net there,” he said.

The measure will be forwarded to the full Legislature for its consideration during its upcoming budget session in 2020.

Losing coal could cost Wyoming dearly, take decades to recalibrate labor force

in Energy/Jobs/News
coal industry labor force
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s coal market has suffered devastating layoffs and mine closures in recent years, and by all accounts, the industry is shrinking. 

But, what if it dried up overnight? 

“If you were to instantly remove the coal industry, it would immediately cause job losses across the state,” said Robert Godby, the University of Wyoming director for Energy Economics and Public Policies Center and college of business associate professor. “You’re looking at about 5,000 miners directly involved in the coal industry. If you were to lose that all at once, people would feel that.”

It’s not just the miners, either. Godby said a sizable chunk of Wyoming’s labor market is reliant on coal.

“Approximately, there’s about 10,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to the coal industry — mining, electricity generation, railroads, plus all the businesses reliant on those workers’ wages,” he explained. “As coal declines in the state, we’ll have to transition those workers to other industries. And, there will not be enough jobs to absorb those workers.”

The good news, Godby said, is coal won’t disappear that quickly, but it could taper off sooner than Wyoming is prepared for. 

“In 2015, there were almost 5,600 miners in Powder River Basin, now there’s 4,400,” he said. “There are 12 mines up there that produce about 40 percent of the country’s coal. We could be below half of what we were producing in 2009 by the mid-2020s.”

High-paying careers

Data from the Department of Wyoming Workforce Services indicates once these workers lose gainful employment, many leave the state to work in the field elsewhere.

But, across the nation, there are fewer jobs for coal workers and retraining for other careers can mean starting all over.

“Those jobs pay really well,” Godby said. “It’s not only difficult to absorb and replace all those jobs, but you won’t be able to find jobs that pay nearly as well.” 

The average income for a coal industry employee is about $80,000 a year, he said. 

“The people who stay, if those jobs were to disappear, may have to do something else,” Godby said. “Many of those workers may have to accept the fact that unless they go back to school, retrain or re-skill, they won’t find jobs that pay as well.”

When a layoff occurs in any industry, Workforce Services deploys a rapid response team, agency spokesperson Ty Stockton said.

“In Wyoming, we don’t have very many businesses that have 600 employees that could get laid off,” Stockton explained. “We don’t have a real threshold for deploying the team. When Laramie County Community College (LCCC) laid off 17 employees in 2016, they went in for that.”

A team was also sent out in 2016 when about 500 workers were laid off from the North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder mines in Campbell County. More recently, Workforce Services deployed a rapid response team to Gillette when Blackjewel, LLC, abruptly laid off about 600 workers at the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Campbell County.

“Rapid response is about giving those folks options and information,” Stockton said. “If they don’t have information, there’s nothing they can do.”

Teams can include mental health counselors, Wyoming Department of Family Services staff to help families, Wyoming Department of Health staff to help with health insurance questions and Workforce Services employees to discuss unemployment options and help laid off workers start the search for their next job, he said.

‘Generation of pain’

But all of those are stop-gap measures designed to lessen the blow to recently out-of-work families. 

In the long term, Workforce Services also provides funding for a number of vocational rehabilitation programs. 

“We’re trying to keep (the workers) here and give them some options,” Stockton said. 

The agency has access to about $2 million for retraining coal workers through the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce Economic Revitalization Grant, aka the POWER Grant.

“The only people eligible for the POWER Grant are the primary industries associated with coal-fired power plants and the coal mines,” Stockton explained. “But we also have the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and that covers everybody.” 

Additionally, Workforce Services helps fund some apprenticeship programs through grants. 

“Training an apprentice is expensive,” Stockton said. “The apprenticeship program was set up to help offset those costs, so if you need a few apprentices, you can apply for these grants and have their training paid for through the apprenticeship grant.”

About 80 trainees are currently enrolled in apprenticeship programs for electrical, plumbing and heating and cooling careers at LCCC and Northwest College, he said. 

Even with training programs already in place, Godby said recovery from the loss of an industry as big as coal would take years.

“To transition a labor force to work on anything else is going to take about at least about a decade,” he explained. “If we look at other industries like the furniture industry in the Southeast, soft wood lumber in the Pacific Northwest and the industrial decline in the Midwest, those transitions typically take a generation to overcome. That’s a generation — 20 to 30 years — of pain.”

Attitudes toward vets have changed, says Air Force official

in military/News
Veterans Day
2354

CHEYENNE — The attitudes of Americans toward veterans have changed significantly in the last 50 years, according to the commander of the Security Forces Group at F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

Col. Damian Schlussel, speaking during a Veterans Day commemoration in Cheyenne on Monday, said veterans no longer face the disdain that was seen among members of the public during the Vietnam War.

“I think over time people have started to realize just how many sacrifices those in uniform have made to guarantee people’s freedoms,” he said. “And whether you disagree with the politics or whether you disagree with things that we’re doing, they still recognize one thing, that there’s still a man and a woman and a family who are serving to guarantee those freedoms.”

Jerry Bowen, a helicopter pilot who served two tours in Vietnam and one mission in the Gulf War, said the treatment of veterans in the 1960s and 1970s was so bad that he hesitated to tell anyone he was a veteran.

“I got off the airplane in San Francisco and hippies were there spitting on you and stuff like that,” he said. “It was just horrible. I was afraid to stand up and say I was a Vietnam vet because of all the controversy when we came back.”

Also present at the ceremony was Gus Fleischli, a former legislator and Cheyenne business owner who served as a gunner on a B-17 bomber for 32 bombing missions over Germany in World War II.

“Every time you got in an airplane, it was scary,” he said. “When you got in that airplane, you were on your way to Germany. And that was no fun.”

Fleischli, who organized “Honor Flight” trips for Wyoming veterans to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.,  said by the time he was flying missions, he felt the Allies in WWII had the upper hand in the war. However, he said the outlook wasn’t quite so positive in the early days of the war.

“I didn’t think the Allies were going to lose the war, but it was damn close,” he said. “We were on the downside at that point. When I was flying those 32 missions, we were on the positive. We were bigger than they were at that time.”

Working dogs to show their skills at Gillette’s Cam-Plex

in Agriculture/Travel
Sheep herding trials
“Frank,” a 5-year-old border collie owned by Wendy Auzqui, shows his stuff while herding. Frank will be one of the 40 to 50 dogs to put their sheep herding skills on display on Saturday during sheep herding trials at Gillette’s Cam-Plex. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Auzqui)
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The art of sheep herding will be on display in Gillette this weekend and the stars of the show will be man’s best friend.

From 40 to 50 dogs are expected to take part in sheep dog trials in an arena at Gillette’s Cam-Plex on Saturday and organizer Wendy Auzqui said those who attend will get a chance to see specially trained dogs show off their talents at herding sheep through a series of obstacles, guided only by audible commands from their handlers.

The dogs used for herding are bred for their ability to move livestock, said Auzqui, who owns Creekside Stockdogs in Clearmont.

“Your job is to put words to what the dog already knows so we can tell the dogs how to move the livestock,” said Auzqui, who owns Creekside Stockdogs in Clearmont. 

In the trials, three sheep will be put at one end of the arena, while the dog’s handler will stand at the other end, using words or whistles to give directions to the dog as it herds the sheep through a series of obstacles.

The dog that completes the task in the shortest time is the winner.

The event is open to any breed of dog, but the most commonly seen breed in trials is the border collie, Auzqui said.

“They’re high drive, intense and their intelligence level is one of the top three for dogs,” she said. “All that together, brains, intensity and the desire to work, is the thing that makes them amazing.”

Among the competitors at the trials, which will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will be Auzqui’s own “Frank,” a 5-year-old border collie who this summer won the championship at the sheep herding trials at the Calgary Stampede in Canada.

Competitors will be divided into four divisions — an open class for any dog and handler, a division for novices, an intermediate class and a “nursery” division for dogs under the age of 3.

There is no admission for people who wish to watch the trials, which are sanctioned by the Mountain States Stock Dog Association.

For more information, visit Auzqui’s Facebook page or CreeksideStockdogs.com.

My Dog Is Not A Fur Baby

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
Livestock guardian dogs
2349

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Americans are animal lovers, so much that 95 percent of pet owners view their pets as family members. According to a survey from the American Pet Products Association, less than 15 percent of dogs in America sleep outside at night, and more than 70 percent of dogs are allowed to sleep in a person’s bed, according to another survey. In American society, dogs have become “fur babies” and humans now identify as “pet parents” – which is either a wonderful thing, or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Animals are no longer simply our companions; they’ve become children in “interspecies families.” 

Although some people dress their dogs up in clothes, or bake cakes on dog birthdays, I don’t. These human-dependent dogs provide a great service to their humans, helping them to stay active while providing health benefits, social opportunities, and companionship. I also believe that dogs can help humans in creating a moral character, and in having relationships outside of self. Even though some dog breeds are not meant to survive on their own, there are dogs throughout the world that can survive in the wild, with or without human assistance. I live with a close relative of these dogs: our livestock guardians.

Personally, to consider myself a pet parent would be a disservice to my dogs. I refuse to anthromorphize the dog out of its noble fundamental existence as a dog. We love dogs for what they are; for their character, their enduring loyalty, their unconditional love, their ability to live in the moment, and for their keen instincts – for their basic doggedness. There is a special connection when gazing into the eyes of a dog that is looking directly at you, when you understand that you are looking into the depths to a remarkable soul. That connection rises to higher plane when you and dog then join together to complete a task, with the human doing human things, and the dog doing dog things, all toward the same end, and both KNOWING that we are engaged in an active partnership. This is the reason humankind has had a dog at its side for at least 20,000 years.

I have great love and affection for our dogs, but more importantly, I also have great respect for them – for their work ethic, bravery, intelligence, independence, (all characteristics for which I also curse at times) – and their willingness to demonstrate their affection to a lowly, unworthy beast like me. 

Every day I greet sunrise with a check on the guardian dogs, and having a 100-pound canine rush at me with wagging-tail enthusiasm is always a pleasure, no matter how many times its repeated. But usually within about three minutes, the excitement at the sight of me fades and the dogs return to their true calling: watching over their sheep, a lesser species that the dogs devote their lives to protecting. I, the mere mortal, am cast aside – unless and until I join the dogs with the sheep. Then the dogs walk alongside me, slowing to rub their bodies against my legs as they pass, allowing my fingers to caress their toplines from the top of the head to the end of the tail. They move back and forth, from me to the sheep, as we all move forward as one living mass.

These dogs are my working partners. I don’t believe I live in an interspecies family, but I do live and work in an interspecies world – a world that involves daily interactions among a mixture of wild and domestic animals and humans. We aren’t apart from nature; we are all components of one nature. We are all animals.

So don’t call my dog a fur baby. It’s a dog, and I don’t want to reform the dog into a human construct. If we’re evolving closer together, I’d much prefer that humans become more dog-like rather than the reverse.

When our dogs die, they don’t go to a rainbow bridge purgatory to wait for us, their beloved humans. These faithful creatures need not wait for anyone before taking their rightful place in a divine kingdom.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Military experience translates well into civilian life, say vets

in military/News
2347

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

On day one of boot camp, every recruit is taught the values of punctuality, personal grooming and working together, but some lessons gleaned from military experience aren’t as immediately obvious.

Ret. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, formerly the Wyoming Military Department’s adjutant general, joined the army in 1982 to experience something new, but stayed in as the service reforged his sense of duty.

“I thought it would be fun,” Reiner said. “The local (Army National Guard) unit was a combat engineer unit, and they would do cool things with explosives.”

He didn’t intend to become a career soldier, but the military became an integral part of his life.

“Initially, you stay because it’s cool, and you have a purpose,” he said. “But, in my mind, the purpose is what grows on you over the years. In the end, you stay because that becomes your calling in life.”

In March, Reiner hung up his uniform and accepted a new leadership role as director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation. The helmets changed to hardhats and the uniforms switched from green suits to orange vests, but he said most of his experience translated easily. 

“My job as the adjutant general was very helpful in transitioning to WYDOT,” Reiner explained. “I oversee roughly the same number of people. But whereas in the guard, there were lots of part-time positions, at WYDOT, there are more full-time positions.”

Both entities break down into divisions or districts, each with their own needs and specialties. 

Whether soldier or civilian, he said employees have the same needs.

“Personnel issues don’t change,” Reiner said. “You still have to ensure your men and women get paid, have good health care and a place to live.”

Reiner still rises early to for physical training, but he has plans to grow out his beard eventually and settle into civilian life.

“The military was a phenomenal job,” he said. “It was an opportunity to serve the state and nation and be part of the backbone of this nation. I feel like I have the opportunity to continue doing that here at WYDOT, and for that, I am thankful.”

Managing relationships

In Iraq, David Sheppard, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant, learned to balance the needs of a village with the demands of a nation at war.

“Our job was to remove the temporary bridges that were installed (on a primary traffic route) and build permanent roundabouts and culverts,” Sheppard explained. “Part of that mission was not only construction, but there was a small village right off the road we needed to maintain a positive relationship with.”

Many Iraqi citizens viewed the coalition forces as foreign meddlers with no understanding of local politics and customs. Relationships between the local populace and soldiers were often tense. 

“In the military, you’re forced into a group, a unit, regardless of race, religion or economic factors — it’s a kind of melting pot — and expected to work together as a team,” Sheppard explained. “You become very effective at making it a productive situation despite your differences.”

After working with the Iraqi town’s leadership to ensure their needs were also represented in the project, Sheppard’s unit finished the roundabout and moved down the road without incident. 

About a month later, a coalition forces patrol rolling through the town discovered and seized about 160 tons of explosive materials intended for use as improvised explosive devices that could have been used against Sheppard and his unit.

“I always circle back to how effective it was to take care of people and manage those relationships — it saved my life,” Sheppard said. “I try to translate that experience to my own everyday life in just being a productive human.”

Sheppard joined the guard in 1999 at 18 and served for about 12 years. Nowadays, he manages 911 Roofing Solutions Inc. in Cheyenne and uses the leadership skills he learned as a soldier to guide his management style.

“In the civilian world, you may encounter a handful of leadership styles over the course of a career,” Sheppard said. “But in the military, you’re exposed to so many different leaders at so many levels, that it really gives you a good perspective. It gives individuals the opportunity to take the good and throw away the bad in forming their own leadership style.”

Arena of beliefs

Christy and Andrew Stigen met while stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. 

Not long after they started dating, they encountered their first major hurdle as a couple — dual deployments to separate areas of operation. 

“I think it was a lot easier for us to transition back than it was for others,” said Andrew Stigen, who exited the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant in 2011. “Both of us came back with the same experience. Other couples, where one stays behind and the other deploys, can have differing expectations when they are reunited, but we knew what we needed from each other.”

Serving together was not only the foundation of their marriage, but it allowed them to cultivate their world view as a couple.

While Andrew Stigen grew up in Casper, Christy Stigen was raised in a small Texas town. 

“Being in the military exposed me to a lot of cultures,” said Christy Stigen, who left the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant in 2012. “I’m more open to new experiences now.”

Andrew Stigen said serving alongside people from every walk of life helped him understand viewpoints he might have disregarded otherwise.

“Everybody has a different mindset growing up in the world,” he explained. “Until people are thrown into an arena of beliefs, they really don’t know where they stand.” 

After Andrew Stigen finished his enlistment, Christy Stigen was stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base and the couple moved to Cheyenne, where they decided to stay. After the military, both decided to use their experiences to help veterans. Andrew Stigen manages contracts for Veterans Affairs, and Christy Stigen processes claims for the Veterans Benefits Administration, a division of the VA.

They have a 3-year-old daughter and a son on the way.

“Joining the military was the best thing I ever did,” Andrew Stigen said. “I’m not going to encourage or discourage my kids from serving, but if they come to that decision on their own, I’m certainly going to paint in the best light.”

No matter the era or branch of service, Reiner said one thing binds all veterans together and drives them long after their time in the military is done.

“At some point, every veteran raised their right hand and swore to protect the Constitution,” he said. “That has no expiration date.”

Art important to the world, says NEA chair

in arts and culture/Community/News
2344

Making art a part of people’s daily lives is very important to the future, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts said during a visit to Cheyenne.

Mary Anne Carter visited Cheyenne on Friday for the Wyoming Arts Summit, hosted by the Wyoming Arts Council.

During her appearance, Carter said the arts unite people by bringing members of different cultures and political beliefs together.

“What we’re finding more and more is arts are a big part of healing and health and well being,” she said. “So for the future of the nation and the world, making sure arts are integrated into our everyday lives is really important.”

Art is also a good tool for economic development, said Brian Harrington, an artist and member of Laramie’s city council.

Harrington pointed as an example to Laramie’s Mural Project, a space where artists can join forces to create large-scale murals.

“When you see these things start to build community spaces, you see them strengthen communities and provide a space where we can all get together and sort of move on from there,” he said. “We can gather and collaborate and do things we weren’t necessarily anticipating doing before.”

Carter said the arts played a major role in the women’s suffrage movement in Wyoming. To commemorate that fact, the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra has commissioned a female composer to write a piece in honor of the 150th anniversary of Wyoming giving women the right to vote.

“I think that just goes to show how critical women are to Wyoming, economic development, the arts, just in general and making sure they are well represented is very important,” said Ryan McConnaughey, president of the orchestra’s executive committee.

Wyoming veterans weigh in on celebrating Veterans Day

in military/News
2342

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Gravesite flowers on Memorial Day, barbecues on Labor Day, social media outrage on Columbus Day — most holidays have their traditions.

But Veterans Day tends to elude veterans and civilians alike.

Despite numerous veterans in my family, including myself, I can’t think of a single instance we even acknowledged Veterans Day.

Perhaps our family is an outlier? So I dialed up some of my old army buddies and asked how they planned to spend Nov. 11. 

“What’s that on — a Monday?” asked Victor Varela, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served with me in Iraq. “Yeah, I’m working. I might go have a beer after, I guess.”

All the calls ended similarly and I was left asking what it is we are supposed to celebrate and for who.

Veterans Day is widely viewed as the day to honor the living, while Memorial Day is reserved for honoring the dead, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars website.

Originally dubbed Armistice Day, the holiday was created to honor the conclusion of World War I, which ended Nov. 11, 1918. 1n 1954, Congress renamed the event Veterans Day to honor veterans from World War II, the Korean War and future wars.

Vietnam-era veteran and Laramie resident John Hursh, a former U.S. Marine Corps captain, said celebrating Veterans Day can be as simple as a couple words and a quiet moment.

“Just walk up to a vet and say thanks,” Hursh said. “I think it’s best when someone comes up, looks you in the eye and thanks you for your service.”

Although he doesn’t have plans for anything fancy, Hursh said he has his own way of celebrating.

“I’m going to take a moment for myself,” he said. “It’s time to pause for a while and remember your buddies and think about how you got where you are and be thankful for our country.”

Tim Sheppard, executive director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, is a retired Army colonel who also served during the Vietnam War. Sheppard has seen many behavioral trends come and go since the late 1960s, but one receiving increased attention in recent years is “Stolen Valor,” the act of lying about military service to garner sympathy or respect.

The fraudulent acts could make some people hesitate before thanking a vet, not knowing if the person’s experiences were genuine. Sheppard said people should look past those rare cases and honor the spirit of the holiday.

“Take the risk and thank the vet,” he said. “Let us police ourselves and we’ll do our best to safeguard the integrity of military service.”   

If people don’t know a veteran to thank on Veterans Day, Sheppard suggested observing a moment of silence at the “eleventh minute of the eleventh hour.” 

As for me, I still struggle with how best to honor the holiday. I was lucky to serve at a time when soldiers were well-received and have been thanked on numerous occasions for my service. It’s a good feeling, but an awkward one.

My peers were volunteers. We served because we felt it was our duty or because we needed a way out of our situations or for the educational opportunities afforded by the G.I. Bill and sign-on bonuses. 

Our country didn’t call on us as much as we stepped forward and asked for the privilege. 

It feels self-aggrandizing to celebrate that experience with a national holiday, especially a holiday created to honor those who, in many cases, were not given a choice. 

So, I plan to spend this Veterans Day focusing on the experiences of my fellow veterans and what their service has afforded future generations. 

Whether you visit your local war memorial, thank a veteran in person or share a quiet moment of reflection, your efforts are what make this country worth serving. 

Thank you.

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