Author says New Hampshire's "Veterans Count" program should be adopted nationwide
McKnight, a 28-year U.S. Army veteran, was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the 6th annual fundraising breakfast for the program, operated by Easter Seals New Hampshire and funded with a mix of federal and private monies.
He said the program's commitment starts before a warrior is deployed and extends to his or her family, and continues long after the soldier returns.
'That's amazing,' he said. His declaration that the program should be adopted in every state in the country brought loud applause from the more than 250 people attending the breakfast at the downtown Radisson. The program already has expanded to Maine and soon will be operating in Vermont, according to Veterans Count officials.
Veterans Count provides comprehensive, free and confidential support designed to meet the unique needs of Guard/Reserves members and their families, according to its website.
McKnight said he learned of the program last May when he spoke at another Veterans Count event. At that time, he promised he would mention it in his travels around the country, a promise he said he has kept.
'Right now, there is an American soldier in a faraway land who is going to step up and be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice so you and I can be here safe and sound, and our kids and grandkids can grow up in the greatest country in the world, not perfect but so much better than the rest of the world,' he said.
The reality of sacrifice, he said, was brought home once again for him and his family when the U.S. Army Rangers involved in the Black Hawk Down incident met for the 20th reunion earlier this month in Dallas, Texas. A 5K memorial run was held to commemorate the one-mile run Rangers had to make to get out of Mogadishu when they were trapped by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid's militia and civilians.
Two helicopters were shot down that day and one of the pilots, Michael Durant, a native of Berlin, broke his back and leg when his copter crashed. All the other crew members on his copter died. He was held captured for 11 days before being freed.
Durant sacrificed a lot that day, McKnight said, but here he was 20 years later running that 5K.
Also at the reunion was Sgt. Ian Gordon, who was only 6 years old when his father, Master Sgt. Gary Gordon of the Delta Force, and Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart both died trying to rescue the downed Rangers, fighting off the heavily armed militia. Ian Gordon became a ranger in October 2009, following in his father's footsteps. In a couple of months, he will try out for the Delta team and McKnight said he has no doubt the now 26-year-old will make it.
Durant wouldn't be alive today, he said, had it not been for the sacrifices of Gordon's father and Shughart.
McKnight said we should make the commitment to all our warriors, not just financially, but with our hearts and souls and for as long as they don't need us anymore.
'We owe it to them. We owe it to them. They have blessed us so that we can be here today. Let's bless them and never forget about them for one day. They are the American heroes. They deserve our commitment to them,' he said.
Major General Harry E. Miller Jr., executive director of Military & Veterans Services, said that since Veterans Count was founded in 2007, the program has helped 2,400 service men and women, their families and veterans, dispersed $1.4 million - $242,000 last year - found permanent housing for 100 homeless veterans, and successfully intervened in 64 cases where the individual was at high risk of committing suicide.
U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, Gov. Maggie Hassan and Mayor Ted Gatsas all attended the breakfast and gave brief remarks.
Gatsas encouraged those attending to step up for the families who may need a little more this holiday season.