The Ripon Forum

Volume 55, No. 5

Veterans Day 2021

“We honor veterans’ service and sacrifice for this great nation.”

By on November 8, 2021

by TONY GONZALES

Senior Chief Jeff Heilman presents Cryptologic Technician (CTR1) Tony Gonzales with the Aircrewman of the Year Award in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in 2004.

Veterans Day is a day to remember our veterans, past and present, for their service to this country. I was 20 years old when planes struck the Twin Towers in September of 2001. Only weeks after 9/11, I landed in Afghanistan. At that time, I couldn’t even point out Afghanistan on the map, and now I had the opportunity to see the world for the first time. I went on to serve several tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Asia. After two decades, I retired as Master Chief Petty Officer. The same young man who enlisted without a high school degree, or even knowing how to swim, retired at the highest enlisted rank within the Navy. 

Growing up, my grandfather, Jesus Antonio Pena, was my hero. He only had an 8th grade education but went on to serve in World War II. He shared stories with me about how the Army taught him bravery and camaraderie. I was only a credit shy of graduating high school when he passed away. I was completely devastated, which persuaded me to make the decision to drop out and enlist in the Navy at 18.  

I take this day to spend time with my fellow veterans and remember those who are no longer with us.

My grandfather emblemized my first understanding as to what our military sacrifices, the importance of our veterans, and the characteristics our servicemembers, past and present, uphold. I continue to be influenced every day by my fellow veterans around me, including my wife, Angel. Angel served eight years in the Air Force and now is a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserves. She represents one of the strongest groups within our veteran community – our female veterans. Women within our military face their own set of unique challenges, both in the field and at home, and yet serve at the same caliber as our men in uniform.

Every year on November 11, we honor veterans’ service and sacrifice for this great nation. There is something incredibly unique about those who sacrifice so much to serve our country – who choose to run towards conflict in the name of freedom. On Veterans Day, I take this day to spend time with my fellow veterans and remember those who are no longer with us. This day also serves as a reminder for the unwavering support system I have with those who served with me. The bond that you get with the people you serve alongside can never be replaced.

When it comes to matters that affect our military, veterans and national security, there are some things you can’t learn in a book – you have to live it.

I work to foster this same sense of camaraderie every day in Congress to devise real solutions for the American people. I believe having veterans both in office and as staff is incredibly important. When it comes to matters that affect our military, veterans and national security, there are some things you can’t learn in a book – you have to live it. 

That’s why I believe it is critical for me to provide insight from my experiences to help further meaningful legislation. I use my seat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs to advocate for federal funding to be responsibly allocated towards the VA and ensure our veterans receive the care they earned. Within my district specifically, I secured $1 million in funding for the Del Rio Tiny Homes for Veterans Project, to construct and maintain temporary homes for veterans currently suffering from homelessness. I also was able to secure $22 million for a new Child Development Center at Lackland Air Force Base and $150 million for a new Veterans Health Care Center in El Paso. 

 I want to thank every brave man and woman that has served our country selflessly so that we can live free. I encourage everyone to take a moment to thank a veteran they may know today and every day.

Tony Gonzales represents the 23rd district of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives where he serves on the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Congressman Gonzales served in the U.S. Navy from 1999 to 2019 where he was a cryptologist and rose to the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer. He also served several tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Asia.

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