Over 200 deceased soldiers and dozens of living veterans across four counties were honored at the Rexburg Tabernacle Wednesday, Nov. 12.
Capt. Uriah Watkins, a combat veteran and an officer in charge of the ROTC program at BYU-Idaho, said this is an annual event, but this was his first time in attendance.
“It was a great turnout that had great outwardly support for veterans,” Watkins said. “There were a lot of restaurants that had promos and benefits for veterans. It’s great to see a community come together and support those who serve our country.”
Veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert War, Peacetime, Sept. 11 and the War on Terror Wars were recognized across Madison, Fremont, Jefferson, Teton and Clark Counties.
Dr. Geoffrey Thomas, chairman of the Board of Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce and Master of Ceremonies, said that since 2001, 6,831 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, and 670,000 soldiers have been injured or given disability status.
Watkins, who served in Afghanistan, was honored as a combat veteran at the ceremony, along with Sgt. Tiffany Abriam, an Iraq combat veteran and noncomissioner in charge of the ROTC program.
“We don’t go out and say, ‘Hey look at me. I’m a combat veteran,’” Watkins said. “But every once in a while, it’s nice to get a pat on the back.”
Watkins served in the United States Army as an engineer officer for 10 years and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I joined the Army when I was 17,” Watkins said. “I came back on my mission and decided to come here and went to school here and, at the same, time went through the ROTC program. While I was in Afghanistan, I found out there was an opening here, and I was lucky enough to get the position.”
Watkins said his time in Afghanistan was spent helping the Afghan citizens.
“My job with the citizens there was to help dispose of roadside bombs to both protect the U.S. military and the Afghan citizen,” Watkins said. “Sometimes it was appreciated and sometimes not, but as a soldier, I have pride in what we did over there.”
Watkins said he always knew he wanted to give back in some way.
“I knew early on in my career I liked helping people progress,” Watkins said. “I thought, ‘Hey, if this spot ever opened up, I want to be a part of it.’”
Both Watkins and Abriam devote their time to give students at BYU-I opportunities for leadership and service in the UnitedStates military.
“It’s very fulfilling,” Watkins said. “I imagine it’s the same when you see a student grasp the concept and you had an influence, and these skills are going to have a direct impact on their career.”
With the thousands of soldiers missing or injured, Watkins said it is rewarding to see so many young men and women willing to volunteer for their country.
“The students here that are volunteering, even though they’re not soldiers, are doing a noble thing,” Watkins said. “It’s a noble thing to be a volunteer. It’s a lot of extra work and time, more so than any extracurricular activity. It’s a selfless sacrifice to be serving your neighbor and your country.”
Watkins said if there is anything he wants people to know about veterans, it is that they are silent professionals who are just regular people serving their country.
“I wear converse shoes and blue jeans,” Watkins said. “If you were to talk to anyone in the ROTC, they’d all say the same thing. We’re just trying to make a living doing something we’re passionate about.”