Do you know how Veterans Day came to be marked on every calendar? The holiday actually originated as “Armistice Day” on November 11, 1919 — the first anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1926 Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance, and twelve years later in 1938, November 11th became a national holiday beginning. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day.”

Few days stir the emotions inside me like Veterans Day does. Both of my parents served in the Navy, my uncle served in the Marines, and my grandfather in the Army. One of my favorite childhood memories is actually going to the commissary on Fort Sam in San Antonio with my grandpa and looking at all the Army trucks.

After September 11th, my path post-high school became clear: I knew I would be continuing my familiy’s tradition of service. I enlisted in the United States Army and left for basic training on November 13, 2003. I was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and placed on a security team tasked with providing route security for supply missions in Baghdad. I am blessed that everyone on my team came home safe.

I am forever grateful I returned to a country that filled airports and clapped with vigor as returning service members deplaned. I still tear up thinking about getting off that plane in DFW and being greeted by what felt like thousands clapping and chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.” Many of you reading this can probably remember a time when our country didn’t take that approach. My generation owes the veterans who served before us a huge debt for making sure our country never treated us like it once treated them. To each and every one of you, I say now “Welcome Home.” Our country has owed you that welcome for decades, and I’m deeply sorry it took so long.

There is another group whose service is still often overlooked. My immediate and extended families’ service is hardly mentioned and rarely thanked. I married my wife, of 14 years one month before I deployed. My entire team had family back home spending countless days and nights wondering if we were safe, enduring weeks without hearing our voice, and missing us on holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions. Our families are every bit as worthy of a thank you as we are for our direct service – especially since the struggle of trying to relate to us once we returned to civilian life was often even more challenging than the separation.

As you say thank you to the veterans around you today, I hope you will make the conscious effort to thank those veterans’ families for their service as well. Their service mattered. Their ability to make sure we had a safe loving environment to return home to often gave us the light at the tunnel to power through.

Finally, to my fellow veterans, our country needs us to lead by example now more than ever before. They don’t need us to carry a rifle or wear a uniform, but to show this country how to work together, despite all differences, to achieve a common goal. We are experts at not allowing our differences from keeping each other safe. We know that you need riflemen, machine gunners, and grenadiers to make an effective team. Those experiences uniquely position us to show the country how our differences are indeed what make us stronger. As forces work to divide America into rival categories, we need to remind everyone that the only element that matters is that we are Americans.

Meet Matt Foster

Matt Foster grew up in New Braunfels, TX and enlisted in the Army after high school. He graduated from UT Arlington after his service and currently lives in Allen, TX.