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Since being sworn in as Montana’s 30th lieutenant governor, one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences has been joining Gov. Bullock in welcoming home Montana’s men and women from serving our state and nation overseas. In my previous career as a soldier and as Montana’s adjutant general, I had the unfortunate but distinct honor to attend memorial services for Montana’s fallen heroes and to meet with their brave and grieving families.

I have witnessed people from all walks of life line the streets of our communities as our fallen warriors have traveled to their final resting place. Most Montanans display their patriotism by stopping and holding a hand over their heart or rendering a salute from the side of the road. They instinctively know this man or woman’s sacrifice deserves their time and respect. That expression never fails to move me and I am confident all Montanans share that sentiment. Whether or not such an episode has taken place near where you live, the loss of any young American in uniform — and a corresponding responsibility to their family — should be shared equally by all citizens.

As we pause on Memorial Day 2013 to remember those killed during our nation’s wars, I ask all Montanans to honor the sacrifice of those who have survived — the families of the fallen, our wounded warriors, and their families. As the force behind the force, veterans and military families support and sustain our troops, care for our wounded warriors and survive our fallen.

Our service members and their families protect our nation with pride and without complaint. They’re parents running their households and raising their children while their spouses are deployed. They’re kids working hard in school, helping out at home and being brave while Mom or Dad is far away. They’re veterans who’ve served our country heroically on the battlefield and have much more to contribute here at home. They’re balancing caring for our wounded warriors with their own careers and responsibilities, and they are survivors who know all too well the high price our troops pay to defend our freedom. Our veterans and military families are proud, strong and resilient, but their service does come with sacrifice.

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Our history is defined by countless acts of valor by more than 1 million Americans who have given their lives serving this country. In today’s wars, our servicemen and women contribute mightily. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a great toll. More than 6,700 members of our armed forces have given their lives and — as I write this — 44 Montanans have paid the ultimate sacrifice since Sept. 11, 2001.

Since before our nation was founded, America’s Armed Forces has stood for freedom and proudly maintained a bond of trust with the American people. We embrace our obligation to preserve and protect liberty at home and abroad and take pride in the unmatched legacy of our predecessors who did the same in places like Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Normandy and the jungles of Vietnam.

To all Montana’s servicemen and women, veterans and their families, I say thanks for your dedication and personal sacrifice. This Memorial Day, know that all Montanans recognize and appreciate your service and are indebted to you for securing our independence, preserving our liberties and protecting our way of life.

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