By Governor Mary Fallin
Throughout our nation's history, our liberty has been secured by the men and women of the Armed Forces. Because of their heroism at home and abroad, we live today in a nation where our citizens can freely pursue their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We can never fully repay the debt of gratitude owed to those who have served and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. But we hope our remembrance in some way pays tribute to their valor. That's why on Veterans Day we pay respect to those who have worn the uniform of this great nation.
I'm happy to also be a part of another effort to honor the men and women of our military: the construction of the new Thunderbird Chapel at Camp Gruber in eastern Oklahoma.
Camp Gruber, for those who don't know, is Oklahoma's largest National Guard training facility and the premiere National Guard training facility in the Midwest. For many troops, it is one of their last stops before being deployed to combat environments overseas.
When Camp Gruber was first built in 1942, it had 14 chapels. After a period of deactivation, many of its buildings were demolished and rebuilt. Since its reactivation in 1977, the men and women stationed at Camp Gruber have made due without the benefit of a chapel.
I learned that Camp Gruber was without a chapel during a visit I took to the base several years ago. After my visit, I put together a committee to begin raising money to build one. That effort helped to spur the creation of the Camp Gruber Chapel Fund.
Through our partnership with the Communities Foundation of Oklahoma, the Camp Gruber Chapel Fund is now collecting private donations to raise enough money to construct an interfaith chapel and ensure its continued operation for many years to come. This is Oklahoma's gift of thanks to our men and women who serve to protect our freedom.
Once completed, the interfaith chapel will not only serve as a place for spiritual fellowship and counseling, but will also be a community center for military personnel and family members. The state of Oklahoma currently has 3,200 of its National Guardsmen deployed to Afghanistan. They are in a tough area where their lives are constantly at risk. Upon their return, we will have the beautiful gift of a chapel to thank them for their service.
In the short time I have been governor of this great state, I have had the opportunity to meet with many members of our Armed Forces and the Oklahoma National Guard. While in Washington, I served on the House Committee on Armed Services and saw first-hand the rigors and responsibilities of people working to defend the freedoms we all enjoy. While these soldiers oftentimes must leave their family and friends behind to defend our country, one characteristic many Oklahomans have in common with these heroes is that we value our faith.
This foundation of faith serves as a sanctuary from the harsh conditions our men and women face every day on the front lines. Furthermore, the construction of the Thunderbird Chapel at Camp Gruber represents a precious long-term gift to these fighting men and women, allowing them a dedicated place of worship and a means of strengthening the faith that guides them.
As Veteran's Day approaches, we are reminded how much we owe to our military men and women. If Oklahomans will unite to give to this great cause, then we will complete this project by the time our troops return from Afghanistan in April 2012. I am confident Thunderbird Chapel will be one of the finest military chapels in the country. I want to thank the many Oklahoma volunteers who have already contributed to this effort through funds, in-kind donations or physical labor. All are welcome and encouraged to assist in this construction effort, regardless of construction experience. Please join us in giving this gift to our Oklahoma soldiers.
To volunteer or to donate money or resources to the Thunderbird Chapel construction fund, please visit http://CampGruberChapel.net