Taking time to remember the fallen

Published 12:30 pm Saturday, May 25, 2013

by Tom Vilsack

This Memorial Day weekend, I hope all Americans will take a moment to honor the service of those who have lost their lives defending our nation. America is a beacon of freedom and democracy today, in no small part because of those who throughout history stood in defense of our values and principles.

We must also remain united in our commitment to today’s active and reserve service members, our veterans, and their families.

At USDA, we understand the special contributions of rural America to our armed services. More than six million veterans live in rural America – and a disproportionate number of today’s service members hail from small towns and rural communities.

USDA’s staff across America includes more than 10,000 veterans and our team works hard every day to strengthen services in rural areas that help veterans and their families.

This includes everything from health clinics and telemedicine services, to distance learning opportunities and training for those who want to start a farm or ranch.

We work closely with other federal agencies, as well as through a partnership with the American Legion, to help get rural veterans the assistance they need to find a job.

And I’m proud that today, more than 40 percent of our new hires at USDA are veterans.

All of these efforts complement the Joining Forces initiative, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, which helps connect service members, veterans and their families with resources to find jobs.

In particular, Joining Forces has played a key role in encouraging U.S. businesses to hire veterans.

A few weeks ago, the First Lady announced that since 2011, U.S. companies have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses.

And the private sector has committed to hiring or training 435,000 more by 2018.

We owe these efforts to our active duty and reserve service members, to our veterans, and to the memory of those who didn’t come home.

This Memorial Day weekend, as we come together to enjoy time with family and friends, I hope everyone will take time to honor those who lost their lives in service to our nation. We’ll never forget their sacrifice, and we won’t let up in helping those who have served.

Tom Vilsack is the United States’ Secretary of Agriculture and heads the United States Department of Agriculture