Gov. Bill Haslam told a gathering Monday honoring veterans that the reason he was chosen to visit Iraq and Afghanistan this summer was because Tennessee has one of the strongest contingents of military service personnel in the country.
Haslam spoke at an event on the plaza of the Tennessee Tower in a ceremony that honored a group of state employees who are also veterans. New employees as well as some of the longest-serving employees of the state were among those recognized with certificates.
Veterans Day is Friday.
Haslam said that even though Tennessee is the 17th largest state, it has one of the highest rates of military service in the country.
He went to Iraq and Afghanistan with the governors of Nevada, Kentucky and Utah.
“We were all feeling kind of special. We were on this military jet. They were taking care of us,” Haslam said. “Finally somebody said, ‘How did you pick the four of us to go on this trip?'”
He said they were told it was because their states represented more service members per capita than other states.
“They didn’t invite us because of who we are but because of the positions that we have,” Haslam said. “I got to go somewhere I didn’t deserve because of something other people had done.”
Haslam told the crowd that they all got to enjoy Monday’s event on a warm, sunny day in Nashville “because of other less desirable places — muddy battlefields in Europe, battleships in the Pacific and hot, hot deserts in the Middle East. I could go on and on.”
Major Gen. Mike Maloan, deputy commander of the Tennessee National Guard, talked about the state’s long history of military service, dating back to 1780, before Tennessee was a state, when Col. John Sevier, who would become Gov. John Sevier, made a call to arms to fight against the British, who were defeated in the Battle of Kings Mountain.
Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Many-Bears Grinder, a Bronze Star Medal recipient and a veteran of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, spoke to the crowd. Haslam noted that Grinder has also lost a child in military duty.
First Lady Crissy Haslam read the records of the employees who were honored. The program’s moderator, Yvette Martinez, a press aide to Haslam, is a former Marine.