Filing into Turning Stone Resort Casino, eager to see their comrades and pay respect to the country they served, military veterans by the dozens showed up more than an hour before a breakfast in their honor began.
Continuing a long-standing commitment to honoring the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, the Oneida Indian Nation held its 16th annual Veterans Recognition Ceremony on Nov. 5. The Nation event has grown to unite more than 400 guests from across Central New York and has found a community partner in U.S. Army Fort Drum, home to the 10th Mountain Division.
During the ceremony, Oneida Indian Nation Representative and Turning Stone Enterprises CEO Ray Halbritter asked all Oneida Veterans to stand and be recognized. “We are proud to have you continue the important legacy of our people.”
Oneidas have played an important role in the development of the United States, becoming the First Allies to America during the Revolutionary War. Upholding this legacy by serving in every conflict since, Oneidas continue to enlist in the United States Armed Forces as a way to protect democracy and the rights of all Americans.
The Oneida veterans in attendance received a round of applause.
Halbritter then asked “all veterans of the United States to stand in solidarity, whether serving in wartime or peace, whether in the Air Force, Marines, Army, Navy or Coast Guard. Today we honor all of you for making this tremendous sacrifice for the land we all call home.” More applause.
Keynote speaker, Fort Drum’s garrison commander, Col. Bryan J. Laske, then took the stage, echoing Halbritter’s sentiment of the importance of remembering and honoring all members of the armed forces who so valiantly protect the rights of Americans, from voting to free speech.
Col. Laske, who enlisted in the Army in 1991, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers through Officer Candidate School, Fort Benning, GA in September 1993 and completed Special Forces Assessment and Selection in 1997 and the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1999. Among his assignments, he served as staff officer at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and was a transition team commander in Afghanistan, where he advised the Afghan National Army in preparation for the NATO forces drawdown in 2014.
Now on American soil, Col. Laske was thankful for the opportunity to speak at this important recognition event. Higher ranking officers kept trying to take the role, but it came back to Col. Laske when both were deployed. “I had nothing to do with those deployments,” he joked. “It is an honor to be able to come down here and do something for you, the Nation and Turning Stone have done so much for us,” said Col. Laske.
Fort Drum and the Oneida Indian Nation have worked together on various community projects, including job fairs held at the base. In 2011, the garrison commander at Fort Drum presented the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Resort Casino its Community Service Award for the resort’s “outstanding and dedicated service to the 10th Mountain Division.”
Halbritter presented Col. Laske with a friendship feather as a token of admiration and extended in peace and friendship from the Nation. Nation Council Members Brian Patterson (Bear Clan) and Keller George (Wolf Clan) joined Halbritter to present the Utica Feed Our Vets program with a check for $1,000.
The annual celebration has grown in the past 16 years, quadrupling its number of guests and moving from its first location at the Nation’s Ray Elm Children and Elders Center to the resort’s Shenendoah Clubhouse and now into 12,000 square feet in the Oneida Room. The mission has remained simple, steadfast and poignant – recognize, honor and celebrate all American veterans from yesterday and today.[/fusion_text]