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Honoring our nation's veterans: Humphrey School event with Representative John Kriesel

Humphrey School student and staff veterans with Representative John Kriesel (center) and Dean Eric Schwartz (far right)

Eric Schwartz, Dean and Professor
Comments from an event honoring veterans
Humphrey School Forum
November 7, 2012

Let me welcome you all here today for our School's commemoration of Veterans Day, which actually occurs this Sunday.

On reflection, it’s probably appropriate that we recognize veterans on the day after our national election, which reflects a democratic process that our military leaders and our armed forces are constitutionally and duty bound to safeguard.

Today, we honor the commitments and the service of those individuals, at the Humphrey School, in our state and region, and around the nation and the world, who have chosen to serve in our armed forces, and support and defend the Constitution of the United States and obey the orders of the President in service to our country.

In my three decades of public service, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to countries and regions experiencing conflict and human suffering, from Afghanistan and Iraq, to Syria and Sri Lanka, to Burma and Bosnia. Throughout my travels, I have been overwhelmed by the dedication, the professionalism and the perseverance of the members of our armed forces – usually young women and men mature so far beyond their years, exercising critically important roles in positions of enormous responsibility and accountability.

The terms courage, heroism and integrity are thrown about pretty loosely these days. But these words have real meaning. Courage might be described as a willingness to confront hardship, pain and even death in pursuit of a critical objective; heroism, as a willingness to demonstrate courage in pursuit of principle that is bigger than one’s self; and, integrity…integrity reflects a consistency of character that ensures devotion to duty.

Military service demands all three of these commitments, and it is, indeed, these commitments that we honor on Veterans Day.

Our School’s namesake, Hubert Humphrey, recognized the contributions of our veterans, when, for example, he worked to reorganize and improve the Veterans Administration.

And of particular relevance to veterans at our institution, he recognized the contributions that veterans can make to public life after their military service. He said that to exclude former military officials from civilian government would be, and I quote, “to cheat the nation of a valuable resource.” He spoke of General George Marshall, and declared that without Marshall, “our postwar policies might have been less impressive.” He went on to say that “in his various roles as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, or the President’s personal representative to China, [Marshall] performed marvelously – and as a civilian.” And Humphrey added, “That he became the prime target of Joe McCarthy’s wild charges was ironic, as well as grossly undeserved.”

That final quote from Humphrey – which reflects the reality that when a veteran gets involved in public life at a senior level, he or she also will inevitably become involved in politics -- seems like an appropriate point of departure to introduce our guest, Rep. John Kriesel.

We are delighted to welcome Representative Kriesel, who served in the Minnesota Army National Guard from 1998 to 2008, was stationed in Kosovo in 2004, and later at Camp Fallujah in Iraq. He has been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Purple Heart Medal, and the Bronze Star Medal for his service.

In the Minnesota Legislature, Rep. Kriesel has distinguished himself as an individual of principle, with little interest in partisanship – frankly, in a spirit that characterized much of Minnesota’s post-World War II political life. Whether it was a constitutional amendment on marriage, the role of organized labor in Minnesota, or many other issues, time and again, John found himself guided by his values and his ideals, rather than the dictates of party. Whatever one’s view on the specific policies he supported, there was little doubt about John's political courage and his consistency of character.

What a wonderful opportunity for us to welcome you, John, and to hear your words.