Honoring service before self
This Veterans Day is a very special one for me, as it is my first since I was sworn into Congress. I served in our nation’s military long before I became a congressman- and long before I was involved in political life. I still think of myself as a veteran before congressman. My combined 26 years of service (active service, DoD contractor, CEO and senior consultant at the Pentagon) has influenced how I handle the challenges I face in Congress. I come into work every morning with an attitude of service, trying to be more of a “Citizen Legislator” or “Servant Leader” than a politician.
So many members of our military serve in Congress now, from Reps. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) to Mike Waltz (R-Fla.), from Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to Jim Baird (R-Ind.), and we all bring our extensive experience in problem solving to help address the problems facing Congress and the nation. Our appreciation for each other’s service and dedication to country binds us together as we fight for our values here and abroad.
I never planned on running for Congress, but I felt the call to serve. It’s a call I answered when joining the Air Force in 1992. I enlisted in the Air Force and after four years I was awarded an ROTC scholarship to the University of Virginia. After graduation, I continued to serve in the Air Force as an intelligence officer. I’m proud to be a Mustang.
Earlier this year was the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Like so many other veterans and Americans, 9/11 was a transformative day in my life.
At the time I was serving in the United States Air Force at Mountain Home Air Force in Idaho with the 366th AEW Wing, 34th Bomb Squadron---the B-1 Bombers. Our squadron deployed almost immediately as the “on-call” wing. I was deployed to active duty and would be spending the next weeks planning bombing runs on Afghanistan to respond to the attacks.
Countless Americans and their families sacrificed and continue to sacrifice due to that heinous attack. And since that time, many others have felt the call to serve as we fight to ensure our unique and precious way of life.
The impact of Sept.11, and the resulting operations around the world, was not limited to that day and history will write that heroic Americans responded with valor and bravery. We came together as a country, with strength and resolve. My brothers and sisters in arms, emergency responders and countless others selflessly put others above themselves.
I have also made a commitment to help our veterans from my new position in Congress. I was fortunate to have a smooth transition from active duty to private life, but not all veterans are as lucky. With Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.), I founded the Veterans Education Caucus, a resource for veterans that will not just help our veterans attend universities, trade schools and certification programs, but will also assist them in job placement, group support and transition training that can lead to fulfilling careers. The caucus also helps businesses find and train the hardworking American heroes who are looking for work.
I am also planning to introduce legislation regarding the epidemic of veteran suicides, specifically those impacted by Post-traumatic stress disorder. The Purple Star Families Week Resolution will raise awareness of the issues of veteran suicide and help the families affected.
On this Veterans Day, I say thank you to all who served. From the Revolutionary War to today, through WWI to WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and other conflicts abroad, service before self has been a mainstay in American thought and action. The lessons I learned still apply and the memories still guide me. Service is ingrained in our collective DNA. Sacrifice for future generations built this country through history. Thank you, veterans, and God bless!
Riggleman represents the 5th District of Virginia and is a founding member of the Veterans Education Caucus.