The following is a guest blog post by Brandon Lithalangsy, a student at the University of Central Arkansas, and former intern in the office of Senator John Boozman (AR).
Being in the military, there are times we forget about those who have left the service. It is important to remember their stories and the lessons they learned. Once they leave, we sometimes fail to recall they are still our brothers and sisters. As a service member in the U.S. Armed Forces, I believe it is important we preserve our veterans’ experiences and stories for generations to come. They have fought a battle that we will soon fight again or are already fighting. They have often seen the solutions to issues during their time that are problems beginning to plague us again today.
As an Army ROTC cadet ready to commission in December of 2018, I wanted an opportunity to learn from military personnel on how to be a successful leader. While seeking an internship for my capstone, an unexpected opportunity presented itself that I couldn’t turn down.
My Professor of Military Science pointed me in the direction of U.S. Senator John Boozman’s Military & Veteran Liaison, Colonel (Retired) Anita Deason. Upon reading about the Senator’s office and his involvement with the Veterans History Project (VHP), I soon became eager to participate in a vitally important program that preserves the history of our veterans for future generations. I saw this as a unique way for me to learn more about the rich history of our military, and to learn important lessons from those who have served before me.
My first interview was with Thomas P. Williams, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He rose to the rank of Colonel, but still exemplifies great humility. Colonel (Retired) “T.P.” Williams shared his expansive military experience from flying an A-26, to meeting people from around the world, of all cultures and backgrounds, as well as serving under several notable military leaders. Col (Ret) Williams is the quintessential officer and a gentleman.
My second interview was with Michael D. Smith, who served as an Army infantryman during the Vietnam War. One of his many stories that astounded me entailed him spending time overseas on his birthday. On a day that should ordinarily be spent with friends and loved ones, his birthday started off with an encounter with a charging water buffalo. Later, his platoon was ambushed—and due to his small stature— his last assignment on his birthday was a mission to seek out and destroy a system of underground tunnels. Mr. Smith’s interview was incredibly powerful, and increased my respect and admiration for those who serve our country. Mr. Smith is currently the proud owner of a successful business in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The final interview in which I had the privilege of participating was with Colonel (Retired) Mark McMullen. He served with COL (Ret) Deason in the Arkansas Army National Guard. During the interview, I found out that, just like me, COL (Ret) McMullen also went through the ROTC program at the University of Central Arkansas. COL (Ret) McMullen discussed the changes in Army Aviation that he had seen throughout his career. The most moving part of his interview was during his service in Iraq, and the hardship of losing everyone aboard Blackhawk helicopter, “Easy-40.” The impact of this loss continues to be felt by family, friends and throughout the Arkansas National Guard. His story touched our hearts, and made us realize how no one ever expects it to be one of their own until it happens.
During this internship, I had a rare opportunity to help coordinate a tour for Senator Boozman and VHP Director COL (Ret) Karen Lloyd. I helped organize visits to universities, high schools, various organizations and individuals that have been involved in preserving the memories of veterans for VHP. The purpose of this tour was to showcase Arkansas’s involvement in VHP, and the Senator’s dedication and commitment to this project. It was humbling to visit with organizations and individuals that have taken it upon themselves to give a voice to our veterans.
My experience in Senator Boozman’s office has shed new light on how deeply his staff cares about our veterans. My internship highlighted the multitude of ways in which the Senator’s staff helps veterans. Whether it is helping them receive their benefits, recover their medals or receive the recognition they deserve, Senator Boozman and his team are willing to help every step of the way. I am grateful to have witnessed hardworking individuals using the power of public office for good.