During the 1990s, as Nebraska's Governor and Commander in Chief, I had to call out the National Guard a number of times to deal with floods, tornados and other natural disasters.
In the 2000s, during several visits to Iraq and Afghanistan as Nebraska's Senator, I met with members of Nebraska's National Guard who were serving their country in war zones.
When I talk with these young men and women I never cease to marvel at how they put the welfare of the nation ahead of their own. As citizen soldiers they do their duty loyally without thought of personal recognition or gain. They are the best America has to offer.
National Guard troops have distinguished themselves in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have also shown themselves to be highly versatile as they respond to domestic emergencies from hurricanes in Louisiana to snow storms in Nebraska. They deserve the support of their fellow Americans as they carry out their duties.
During my work on the Senate Armed Services Committee I am always mindful of the tremendous contribution and sacrifice members of the National Guard and their families make for America.
I've tried to keep their needs in mind pushing for improvements to survivor's benefits and for better health care services and helped lead efforts to elevate the head of the National Guard to equal status with the heads of other branches of our military.
I helped make sure Guard soldiers had the equipment and training they needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I cosponsored the TRICARE Dependent Coverage Act this year to provide that children of armed service members and retirees are able to stay on their families' insurance until age 26.
I'm not the only one who works to improve conditions for Guard members. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Richard Nixon recognized the importance of the National Guard. So did General William Westmoreland and John Marsh, the longest serving Secretary of the Army. U.S. Senators including Bob Dole, John Warner, and Carl Levin also worked hard on behalf of the National Guard.
These historic figures are among those who have been recognized by the National Guard Association of the United States with its highest honor; the Harry S Truman Award for Distinguished Service in Support of National Defense.
In late August I was surprised and humbled when the National Guard Association bestowed that same honor on me. It was completely unexpected but will always serve as a reminder of my commitment to continue working on behalf of the National Guard as it provides defense and security for the United States.
To paraphrase Bob Hope, who was another recipient of this honor, "I've been given many awards in my lifetime - but to be honored by the men and women I admire most - is the greatest honor I have ever received."