Looking out over a gathering of about 200 people in late January as I sat in an auditorium waiting to speak, my thoughts went to Nebraska's proud military tradition.
The 200 people were members of the Nebraska National Guard, who had recently returned from Afghanistan, and their families. They were the latest in a long line of Nebraskans who have served their country.
The military service of men and women in Nebraska has not only protected the American way of life, their service helped create it.
In 1819, Fort Atkinson was founded about 15 miles north of Omaha. It was, at the time, the largest military post under U-S command.
Soldiers were stationed at Fort Atkinson to protect American fur traders, show the American flag, and keep the peace with the native people.
Hundreds of miles from any civilized settlements, Fort Atkinson gave rise to the first school, the first farms, a saw mill, hospital and library west of the Missouri River.
As they tried to bring modern civilization to an unknown and seemingly isolated part of the world, I imagine those soldiers shared some of the same emotions the men and women I was about to welcome home had experienced in Afghanistan.
Just as the soldiers at Fort Atkinson served our growing country's needs in the frontier era, the service of these Nebraska soldiers in Afghanistan is helping the United States meet the complex challenges of today's world.
The difference is that many of those frontier soldiers stayed where they served and helped to settle the new American territories. As Nebraskans, we're all glad that they did.
The ceremony was for M-Ps who had come home from Afghanistan around Thanksgiving but the public ceremony was postponed so it wouldn't be lost in the holidays. I'm glad they waited because our troops deserve recognition and a show of appreciation. Both the troops and their families have made tremendous sacrifices to serve their country.
These M-Ps did an excellent job running the detainee facilities in Parwan Province. They helped to establish justice and order among the chaos of war.
They served as role models for the M-P soldiers of the Afghan National Army. They helped train them to manage their own detaining facilities so they will be humane, effective and secure.
We are all looking forward to the day, hopefully soon, when the Afghan people will run Afghanistan's military and civilian justice systems for themselves. It will lead to more stability in Afghanistan and more security for the United States.
Thanks to these Nebraska troops, the latest to follow a long proud Nebraska military tradition, we are one step closer to accomplishing our mission in Afghanistan. We are one step closer to a transition of responsibility to the Afghan government and we are one step closer to successfully ending the longest war in U-S history.