“On this 11th day of the 11th month, I join the country in honoring our veterans and the countless sacrifices they have made to serve our country. I also honor their families, who have endured extended absences and profound personal challenges as they watched those most important to them put themselves in harm’s way.
“In that spirit of gratitude, I want to recognize some of Maryland’s bravest.
“Sgt. Eric M. Houck, 25, died from gunshot wounds in the Peka Valley of the Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan this past June. Sgt. Houck – who began his military career as a private and rose to the rank of sergeant in just three years – was an avid sports fan. His father called Eric his best friend and said that his family, particularly his two young children, were everything to him. He was only one month shy of returning home.
“Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Xavier Martin, age 24, died aboard the USS Fitzgerald during its tragic collision off the coast of Japan in June. Petty Officer Martin was an exemplary sailor and the youngest petty officer with a rank of first class aboard the USS Fitzgerald. He was so well-loved, more than 100 friends and family traveled from around the country and the globe to attend his funeral.
“U.S. Air Force pilot and Annapolis native Eric Schultz was killed in an aircraft crash in early September. Lt. Col. Schultz was a combat veteran and an exceptionally talented Air Force test pilot with more than 2,000 hours flying. He held six degrees, including a Ph.D in aerospace engineering, but was described by friends and family as the most humble man they have ever known. ‘If you met him in a social environment, you would never know he was a Ph.D or a pilot,’ his father said.
“Timothy Eckels and Kevin Bushell were among the sailors killed during the collision of the USS John McCain in August. Information System Technician 2nd Class Eckels was a graduate of Manchester Valley High School, and was described as being ‘known for making everyone better by his presence,’ and a true pleasure to be around. He was just 23 years old. Electronics Technician 2nd Class Bushell was not much older, at only 26, and a talented technician for the Navy. He proudly served for seven years.
“There are many other Marylanders, many other families, who have suffered unfathomable loss and injury, and all of them deserve our collective and eternal gratitude.
“They also deserve to have the many promises we have made kept. They deserve the job training, education assistance and housing benefits they have earned. They deserve every tool and resource they need to succeed both professionally and personally once they return home. They deserve leaders who consider their sacrifice every day, not only on Veterans Day.
“Let us honor our veterans in ways that are truly befitting their service: by vowing to protect the benefits they have earned. By pledging to remain grateful for their service and concerned for their needs every day, not only on this day. And, perhaps most critically of all, by committing ourselves to the causes for which they served.
“Today, I salute every man and woman who has put on a uniform, and humbly thank every one of their families for braving the worst fears and the toughest of challenges in service to our nation.”