Kentucky Guard PAO awarded for work

By Sgt. Scott Raper, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, Kentucky Adjutant General, presents Dave Altom with his 2010 Keith L. Ware Public Affairs award for his editorial on Kentucky's Wounded Warriors Jan. 5. (photo by Capt. Stephen Martin, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

FRANKFORT, Ky. – There are those in, and out of uniform, that are dedicated to telling the story of the Kentucky National Guard.  One individual recently was awarded for just such work.  Dave Altom with the Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office received the third place prize for civilian commentary for a story he wrote on Wounded Warriors.  The award was given as part of the annual Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware Public Affairs Communication Competition, a Department of the Army sponsored event that showcases journalism excellence from military personnel and civilian employees.

(Scroll below to read Altom’s editorial that won him the distinguished  award.)

“I’ve been at this for a long time,” said Altom. “It’s a great feeling to know that my contributions are worthy and have brought attention to an extremely honorable cause and to the Kentucky National Guard.”

Altom’s article, Wounded Warriors, a National Treasure, chronicled the experience of several Kentucky Guardsmen on a fishing trip to Alaska (click link to read full story).  The three-part series provided a glimpse into the lives of Kentucky’s wounded warriors and the rare opportunities offered to those who have given unselfishly to their country.

“I’ve held the American Soldier in high regard since I was a child,” said Altom.  “My heroes and mentors were all veterans.  I admired them for their character, their willingness to do what needed to be done and their sense of humor under less than optimal circumstances.  Being around our Wounded Warriors reminds me so much of those men. Our troops have sacrificed so much for us all and I feel privileged to share their company.”

“All too often, we are so busy telling the story on behalf of our Guard that we don’t tell our own story or praise our own public affairs team,” said Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, director of public affairs, Kentucky National Guard. “The Keith L. Ware award bestowed upon Dave helps us ‘give credit where this credit is way-overdue’.  I’m really proud of Dave and all that he continues to do for the Kentucky Guard.”

Dave Altom served as a sergeant during the Persian Gulf War, where he helped tell the story of American Soldiers supporting Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Twenty years later he's still at it, his most recent efforts bringing attention to Kentucky's Wounded Warriors. (Photo by Retired Col. Phil Miller)

Altom wore the Army uniform for 20 years prior to working as a civilian.  16 of those years he spent in the Kentucky National Guard, deploying as part of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and retiring in 2005.  Following a stint as a Military Policeman, Altom began his distinguished career in public affairs.  A University of Kentucky Graduate in telecommunications and English, Altom calls his work, a fascinating profession that serves the greater good.  He has always been fond of doing whatever it took to tell a Soldier’s story, riding on tanks, hanging out of helicopters, rolling with the artillery, anything that would get their story told.  He says that even though he’s not in uniform, he still has the opportunity to talk with and tell the story of the Soldiers and Airmen of the Kentucky National Guard.

“It’s not the PAO’s mission to be famous, but rather to make the Guard famous.  The public deserves to know, and they need to know, what the Guard does.  We have so many wonderful and, in my mind, important stories that have yet to be told, there isn’t a job that I’d rather have,” said Altom.

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Dave Altom’s editorial was published in the Bluegrass Guard, Vol. 15, Issue 1:

Dave Photo

A photo collage of Operation Wounded Warrior to Alaska in 2010 with the Kentucky National Guard.

It was during a drive through Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula that Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Reed said something that impacted me profoundly.  We were escorting six Kentucky Guard wounded warriors (whose story you can read in this very issue) and taking in some of the most magnificent landscapes I’d ever seen.  I was talking about how great it was to hang out with the troops.

And that’s when Reed said that they were “national treasures.”

For some reason what he said – or maybe it was the way he said it, slow, deliberate and with typical NCO conviction – caught me off guard.  I considered his words for a moment and said, “That’s true.  National treasures.  I never thought of them like that before.”  Reed smiled and I got the funny feeling that the answer had been in front of me all along.

Since my early childhood I’d held veterans in high regard, my admiration becoming part of my DNA.  Their example, both in deed and in word, ultimately led me to join the service and becoming a token member of their brotherhood.  They’ve been my heroes, my mentors, my colleagues and, I’m honored to say, my friends.

We are now approaching the ten year mark since 9/11.  Our nation has changed dramatically since then, in some good ways and some not so good, perhaps.  Change happens, but one thing remains constant: the dedication and resolve of those who serve in uniform and put their lives on the line for those of us who cannot or will not do the same.

For so few to stand up and endure so much on the behalf of so many, that to me was a humbling thought as I sat in that van on that memorable day.  How ironic that Reed used those words while we were in the heart of the United States’ last great frontier, a national treasure of towering mountains, fantastic wildlife, endless forests and, as we say here in Kentucky, a true pioneering spirit among its people.

I encourage everyone reading this to take heart in that ideal.  You may already.  I’ve no doubt that many of you are way ahead of me on this.  But for those of you who aren’t, or perhaps just need a gentle reminder, think on this:  we need to treasure our wounded veterans and keep in mind what they have endured on our behalf.  That doesn’t mean pity them, nor does it mean treat them as if they’re broken.  They may be injured, they may need healing, but there is strength and wisdom in each and every one that I’ve met, enough to make me question my own potential.

Funny thing.  Most of the wounded warriors I know don’t consider themselves “heroes” in the traditional sense.  They were just “lucky enough to survive.”  But they’ve got experience and insight that most of us overlook in our daily lives.  Make them part of your life, whether it’s part of your family day, your unit’s change of command or holiday celebration or just stopping by and saying “hey.”  You can learn a lot from these guys.

They are, after all, our national treasures.

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