By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Payne County residents dressed in winter coats, gloves and ear muffs stood along Main Street to thank veterans during a parade and shivered through a shortened Veterans Day Observance Sunday at the Payne County Veterans Memorial at Boomer Lake.
Residents dotted Main Street between Hall of Fame Avenue and the Cimarron Plaza Shopping Center to thank veterans for their service to the United States.
A color guard led the parade. Freedom Riders followed on their motorcycles. It continued with military vehicles and soldiers from 45th Infantry Brigade combat team of the United States Army. The team is part of the Oklahoma Army National Guard. The 179th Infantry Regiment is headquartered in Stillwater.
The Payne County Fairest of the Fair royalty and several community organizations also participated in the parade.
Stillwater’s Veterans Day Observance started at 1 p.m. at the Payne County Veterans Memorial at Boomer Lake.
Oklahoma State University’s Army and Air Force ROTC cadets presented the colors. Rev. Derrek Belase of Highland Park United Methodist Church gave the invocation. The SUAVE vocal group song two patriotic songs. Veterans of all services were recognized.
179th Infantry Regiment commander Maj. Andrew W. Ballenger said he had prepared a 10- to 15-minute speech, but decided to focus on the highlights because of the weather.
United States troops have served in the Middle East since 2001 in the war on terror, Ballenger said. Iraq is on its way to becoming a strong democracy, but fighting continues in Afghanistan.
“We have built a fledgling democracy in two countries. Previously, it was a socialist regime in one country and a failed nation in the other,” Ballenger said. “... Iraq today is currently on the path to success. ... In Afghanistan, I’m not quite so optimistic. There is still fighting there. We are leaving in two years.”
Threats continue to exist in the Middle East, he said. Iran’s nuclear program continues to be a divisive issue in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
The U.S. government and military must stay vigilant, Ballenger said.
“My hope and my prayer is that our leaders in Washington will have the wisdom to make the right decisions about what’s worth fighting for and what’s not. If they determine that there’s something worth fighting for that we will be properly trained, equipped and manned so that we can carry out those missions accordingly,” Ballenger said.