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Poe: 'Lean in' to ensure officials do right by vets
American Legion Post 90 hosts annual observance
W 111116 VETERANS DAY 01
During the annual community Veterans Day Observance at the Averitt Center for the Arts on Friday, keynote speaker Don Poe, right, stands beside a recreated illustration based on surveillance video and tells the story of U.S. Marines Jonathan Yale and Jordan Haerter, who died when a truck exploded in a suicide attack at a checkpoint in Iraq in 2008. The soldiers stayed at their posts, firing at the truck until it stopped, saving 150 of their fellow soldiers and Iraqi police. Poe's speech centered on how serving in the military creates a unique and strong family. - photo by Photos by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Veterans Day speaker Don Poe asked not just military veterans, but spouses, children and friends of veterans, indeed anyone proud of a veteran, to "lean in" and insist that elected officials make good on promises to veterans.

At the observance hosted by American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90, Poe delivered an emotional retelling of a ranking general's tribute to two young Marines killed in their effort to stop an Iraqi insurgent in an explosive-laden truck. This year, the 11 a.m. observance downtown in the Averitt Center for the Arts' Emma Kelly Theater was one of two public Veterans Day ceremonies in Statesboro. Georgia Southern University's Military and Student Veteran Center hosted a 9 a.m. program on Sweetheart Circle.

"We have a new president and elected officials that for months have promised us better treatment for our veterans and their families," Poe said. "Too many times we hear the same promises, the same excuses, and nothing gets done, and then four years later we hear it again, with the same finger pointing. This has to stop. We have to hold all our elected officials responsible for their words and the treatment of our honored heroes."

Poe entitled his speech "Veterans, Families and Krispy Kreme." His point about families was that family isn't always genetic. A true family provides its members with emotional and spiritual kinship through shared values and traditions, common experiences and non-judgmental support, he said.

People who serve in the military become part of such a family, Poe said. He asserted that another such family emerged on the streets of Statesboro last month.

"A common interest, a common desire, a hunger that needed to be fed united thousands of average citizens in one goal," Poe said. "Not the election - I'm talking about Krispy Kreme doughnuts."

As his audience laughed, he observed that when the doughnut shop opened, thousands of people waited in lines of traffic and hundreds camped on the sidewalk for a sweet treat "that quickly passed their lips but, listen, stayed on many of our hips."

Then Poe asked first veterans, then spouses of veterans, sons and daughters of veterans, friends of veterans, anyone proud of a veteran to raise their hands. This, Poe suggested, was a family that, "as a unified body ... can apply pressure on our government" on veterans' behalf.

'Lean in'

In the military, "lean in" means "to lean into the weapon to bring the weapon to bear, to control the recoil and the energy of that weapon and face your target head-on," Poe explained.

He then began reading excerpts of a speech given by Lt. Gen. John Kelly in November 2010, four days after Kelly's own son was killed in combat in Afghanistan. Kelly spoke about two other Marines who died April 22, 2008, while he was commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq.

Two Marine battalions were switching out in Ramadi, one closing its tour and another beginning. Cpl. Jonathan Yale, 22, and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 20, one from each battalion, began their watch at the gate of an outpost that housed 50 Marines and 100 Iraqi police.

As Poe spoke, a large poster was displayed with its blank side forward. He had it turned around to show a photo-like image of two Marines' backs as they fired at a big truck barreling toward them.

"The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both," Poe read from Kelly's account.

The blast damaged or destroyed 24 masonry houses, as well as a mosque 100 yards away. The truck's engine fell 200 yards away, knocking down most of a house, the general had said. Experts calculated that the truck contained 2,000 pounds of explosives.

"Because these two young infantrymen didn't have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers in arms," Poe repeated from Kelly's speech.

One of the Iraqi police officers reportedly said later that he and the other Iraqis ran "like any normal man would" but that the two Marines stood there and fired. The picture Poe displayed was a recreated illustration, but a security camera confirmed the Iraqis' account, and Yale and Hearter were awarded posthumous Navy Crosses.

"As individuals, as a collective group, as a family we must hold the promises of the past election period and those that made the promises to task," Poe said. "Don't walk away. Don't allow them to forget. Square your shoulders, face your target, lean in."

Poe, a Statesboro resident since 1993, served in the Army from 1973 until 1976 as a military policeman. He served at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and not in a war zone, he acknowledged. Two of his sons have served in the Army, one as a combat medic in Afghanistan. Poe now serves as an Honor Flight volunteer, paying his way to escort other, often older veterans on free trips to see the monuments in Washington, D.C.

American Legion Post 90 has been hosting the public observance at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month for years.

Veteran Student Center

But Friday's 9 a.m. service on Georgia Southern's Sweetheart Circle was an inaugural event.

The 580 small U.S. flags along the walk represented the 580 veterans and current military personnel enrolled as students at the university, said Lt. Col. William G. Roberts. Retired from the U.S. Army, Roberts is now Georgia Southern's associate dean of students for military affairs and director for the Military and Veteran Student Center, which opened in February.

The center assists veterans and service members with any needs in transitioning to student life, from admission to the university to understanding their GI Bill benefits, said Sgt. Justin L. Williams, the center's military advocate coordinator. An Army veteran, Williams served in combat units in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He and Roberts were among several staff and student veterans who took part in the ceremony.

Different ensembles of Georgia Southern student musicians performed at the campus and downtown observances. "The Armed Forces Medley" was played at both, with veterans standing up when the traditional tune was played for their branch of service.

Somewhere around 200 people attended each event, but there were vacant seats at both.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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