Dalton State College president, student veterans speak during Veterans Day ceremony

Nov. 9—Each Veterans Day, men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces are highlighted and thanked for their service, but to Justin Asher, a U.S. Army veteran and a junior at Dalton State College, veterans are not "simply defined" by service alone.

"They are defined by their unwavering commitment; they bring skills, their discipline and their leadership to our communities, making it stronger and more vibrant," Asher said during a Veterans Day ceremony held at the flagpole in front of Dalton State's Westcott Hall on Thursday. "They demonstrate to all of us that, even in the face of adversity, you can find hope, purpose and the strength to carry on."

Asher was one of several individuals who participated in the college's Veterans Day ceremony, which began with an introduction by Dalton State's Veterans Affairs (VA) school certifying official Kristina Autry.

"I come from a long line of military service members dating back to the Revolutionary War," Autry said. "While I have not served in the military, I take great pride in serving students who have served and their families."

Autry said the ceremony was the first time people had gathered at the flagpole for a Veterans Day ceremony since before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It is indeed a beautiful morning for the return of Dalton State's Veterans Day celebration," she said as she introduced Staff Sgt. Leo Banquez and Sgt. Austin Long, both members of the Georgia Army National Guard and graduates from Southeast Whitfield High School, for the raising of the American flag.

Army veteran Dawson Harper, who is finishing his associate's degree in the physics pathway at the college, then led in the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence to "honor those veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice."

Also speaking was recently-named Dalton State President John Fuchko III. Fuchko is also an active colonel in the Georgia Army National Guard and commander of the 122nd Regiment — Regional Training Institute.

"It was on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh hour in 1918 when the armistice was signed that ended World War I," Fuchko said, detailing the history of the national observance. "Several years later, Congress officially recognized that day as Armistice Day. Of course it was several years after that when World War II broke out. The first Veterans Day was held in 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama. They were calling it Armistice Day after the 'War to End All Wars,' but they decided after World War II to change the name."

Fuchko said it is not only appropriate to honor service members on Veterans Day, but also to honor veterans' families.

"I know we have several veterans among us and I know we have several family members," he continued. "We always like to recognize the families because they don't always get (thanks). (Service members) miss birthdays, Christmases, holidays, you name it; families deal with a lot back at home."

Fuchko said Veterans Day and Memorial Day are often lumped together, despite there being a clear delineation between the two.

"Memorial Day is meaningful, no doubt, to all of us, but Veterans Day is (meant for) recognizing the people who made it home."

Asher, who served in Afghanistan with Banquez, said the tremendous pride of serving the country can also be met with dark times.

"Through my journey, I faced darkness and depression and battled with my sense of self-worth," he said, taking a pause. "It was only the unwavering support from family and friends that became a lifeline and brought me back from the verge. I often reflect how their love and encouragement saved me. This realization gave me the profound understanding of the vital importance of a strong support system."

Fuchko ended his speech by delving into the differences regarding the oath that service members take in joining the military.

"All branches of the military must take an oath, and that oath is different from other militaries around the world," he said. "If you study what happened in Nazi Germany, Hitler changed the oath of the (German) military to make an oath of personal loyalty to him. If you look at the oath of the U.S. military, the oath is to the Constitution of the United States. If you happen to be in the National Guard, it's also to the constitution of the state that you are a member of. It's not to a person. That differentiates us and it really becomes pretty important.

"That's what makes this country very unique and special, with all of its faults and flaws. But we do a lot better than pretty much everybody else and I think that's one of the reasons why, is because of the differentiation between a person and the Constitution."