Tell the Irvine City Council No Back Room Deals! Keep Your Promises to Our Veterans!

Once again, we must fight to ensure that a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Irvine becomes a reality.

All of us must tell the Irvine City Council, “No back room deals! Keep your promises to our veterans!”

Here are the facts:

Ever since the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro (MCAS El Toro) in Irvine was decommissioned in 1999, a growing number of veterans dreamed of locating a veteran’s cemetery and memorial on a portion of the closed base, where an estimated 2 million men and women served this nation in peace and war, and from which too many of them departed to foreign lands never to return.

These veterans formed the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation to advocate for an Orange County veterans cemetery.

Proud to stand with my dad, Korean War combat veteran Stan Kay, and Vietnam veteran and Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation leader Bill Cook.

The need is great. Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state.  This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County.

Yet there is no Orange County military cemetery for the estimated 133,000 Orange County veterans and their families.  Those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties.  The national cemetery in Los Angeles is at capacity and the one in Riverside requires a lengthy wait.

In 2014, Assembly Bill 1453 (AB 1453) was introduced by Assemblymember Quirk-Silva in the California legislature to establish a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Assemblymember Donald Wagner representing the City of Irvine, was approved by the state legislature as of August 25, and signed by Governor Brown on September 27, 2014.

On July 22, 2014, after several months of debate and hearings, and appeals from numerous veterans and veterans’ organizations, the Irvine City Council adopted a resolution expressing its intent to convey the Amended and Restated Development Agreement (ARDA) site, just north of the Great Park and on land that was formally part of former MCAS El Toro, consisting of 125 acres, to the state for the purposes of creating the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.

Speaking to the Irvine City Council in 2014 in support of an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located on the grounds of the old Marine base in Irvine.

I had spoken at City Council meetings numerous times in favor of this resolution, as had my father, a Korean War combat veteran.

We were thrilled that the City Council had approved providing 125 acres of City-owned land for the veterans cemetery.  While we knew that the City Council had not approved spending any money for the cemetery, our expectation, as well as that of the Irvine City Council, was that once the land was provided, sufficient funds to build and maintain the cemetery would come from the federal government and the State of California.

Over the next year and a half or so, very little was done to move the project forward, as both the state and federal government considered the matter.

Then in June 2016, the City received a disheartening report from California Department of General Services that projected the cost of Phase 1 of building the veterans cemetery at the ARDA site to be a startling $77,372,000.

Most of this enormous cost involved the decontamination and demolition of 77 buildings (both residential and non-residential) remaining on the site.  The report noted that many of these remaining buildings and facilities “contain hazardous building materials such as asbestos-containing building materials (ACM) and lead-based paint (LBP).”

More bad news followed.

On July 25, 2016, the City learned that the Federal Veterans Administration had ranked the Southern California Veterans Cemetery at a mere 74 out of 101 proposed state veteran cemetery projects, and that the project was eligible for only $10 million from the federal government.

In other words, we learned that there was a $67,372,000 shortfall between what the cemetery would cost and what the federal government was willing to contribute. Moreover, no state funding was promised.

It appeared that the Southern California Veterans Cemetery that so many of us had long fought for was not going to get built.

During this time, FivePoint, the developer of the Great Park and the Great Park Neighborhoods, made the City an offer to exchange 125 acres of land that it owns just south of the Great Park, which it was now using as a field to grow strawberries, for the ARDA land.

The City could then provide this Strawberry Fields land to the State of California for a veterans cemetery, rather than the ARDA site.

No costly decontamination or demolition would be necessary to begin construction.

Speaking with California Governor Jerry Brown after his tour of the two proposed sites for an Orange County veterans cemetery in Irvine.

Like the ARDA site, the Strawberry Fields site had once been part of the El Toro Marine base.

In addition, FivePoint offered to pay for the cost of building Phase 1 of the veterans cemetery, thus saving the public nearly $80 million as compared to attempting to build the cemetery on the original ARDA site.

Still, there remained some uncertainty about the details of FivePoint’s offer.

Based on these financial facts and FivePoint’s offer, the City Council voted on April 4, 2017, to adopt my motion to pursue a dual track option of telling the Governor’s office, CalVet, and the State Legislature, that the City would guarantee local funding of up to $40 million, and, simultaneously, to direct staff to clarify and nail down the details of FivePoint’s land exchange, which could expedite the creation of the cemetery and save the City millions of taxpayer dollars that could then be used for other purposes, including construction of the Cultural Terrace and other amenities at the Great Park.

On May 12, 2017, Governor Brown toured both of the sites proposed for a veterans cemetery on the former El Toro Marine base. After his tour, Brown said either site was acceptable to the state. He also indicated that he preferred the Strawberry Fields site offered by FivePoint:  “It’s absolutely certain that Orange County will get the veterans cemetery that it deserves and the veterans deserve,” Brown said.  He later added, “Obviously, I like [the] strawberry patch — ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ Remember that song?”

Following the Governor’s visit, the land exchange proposed by FivePoint was supported in letters to the City Council by a formidable and bipartisan array of Orange County elected officials, including Congresswoman Mimi Walters (Republican), Congressman Lou Correa (Democrat), State Senator Josh Newman (Democrat), Assemblymember Steven Choi (Republican), and Assemblymember Sharron Quirk-Silver (Democrat) — the author of the original Southern California Veterans Cemetery legislation.

In addition, the land exchange was strongly supported by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, the non-partisan veterans’ group that had tirelessly and heroically pressed for an Orange County veterans cemetery for many years.

On June 6, 2017, the Irvine City Council voted 3-2 to change the site originally designated for a veterans’ cemetery and to proceed with the land exchange (125 acres of the ARDA for 125 acres of the Strawberry Fields) with FivePoint.

Mayor Don Wagner, Councilmember Christina Shea, and I voted in favor of this land exchange.  Councilmembers Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott voted against.

The State legislature then adopted two budget trailer bills related to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery. These bills authorized CalVet to acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery at the new Strawberry Fields sites; provided $500,000 for a new CalVet study; authorized CalVet to submit a request for Federal Cemetery Grant funds; and provided $5 million to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Master Development Fund.

Over the next few months, further approvals of the land exchange were then made by the Irvine Transportation Commission, which found that the land exchange would not have any significant impact on Irvine’s traffic, and by the Irvine Planning Commission, which urged approval necessary zoning changes.

Proud to wear a Southern California Veterans Cemetery cap with Vietnam War veteran Bill Sandlin, after receiving a commemorative cup on the 241st anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.

It now seemed that the Southern California Veterans Cemetery was finally on track and was smoothly moving forward at last.  All that remained was final approval of the land exchange agreement by the City Council at the City Council meeting on September 26, 2017.

But just when it seemed that the veterans cemetery was soon to be launched with a jubilant official groundbreaking ceremony, suddenly everything was thrown up in the air once again.

I heard from Bill Cook, a leader of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation and a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran, that the City Manager was now insisting on providing only 25 acres for a veterans cemetery.  According to the scheme concocted by the City Manager, the remaining 100 acres would then be available for more houses, apartments, and hotels.

Next, I read in Voice of OC that the Irvine City Council is rumored to have “scheduled a closed session discussion of the veterans cemetery during its Sept. 26 meeting. The discussion reportedly will include using 100 acres of the veterans cemetery land for hotels, homes or other commercial purposes until the land is needed to bury veterans.”

Apparently, the City Manager had taken it upon himself to push this new 25 acre scheme for several weeks in staff negotiations with FivePoint, without direction from — or even informing — the City Council.

This action by the City Manager is outrageous.

Let me be clear:

Failing to provide the full 125 acres as promised will kill the veterans cemetery.  CalVet has made it clear to the City that “The USDVA requires that the entire 125 acres be transferred to the state in whole in order for the state to receive a grant to begin Phase I construction. Additionally, the CA Public Works Board requires the same. Anything short of a 125 acre transfer to the state puts the entire project in jeopardy. Once the state takes possession of the land and construction begins, the land can only be used according to the SCVC Master Plan. No additional use leases, etc. will be authorized.”

The City Council never authorized or even discussed this outrageous betrayal of our commitment to provide 125 acres for a veterans cemetery. This was undertaken by the City Manager without my knowledge or, as far as I know, the knowledge of any other member of the City Council.

I will not participate in any secret session or back room deals. There are no terms in the land exchange agreement that cannot be shared with the public in open session. 

I will fight to ensure that Irvine provides the full 125 acres as approved and committed by the City Council.  Anything less would be a betrayal of our promise to our veterans, and I will vehemently fight against it.

What you can do:

Send emails to the Mayor and City Council. Tell them to stick to their promise to provide the full 125 acres.  Tell your friends and neighbors, especially veterans, to do so as well.

Attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 26, 2017.  Publicly tell the Council to keep its promise to our veterans.  The meeting will start at 4:00 pm and be held at the Irvine City Hall City Council Chamber, One Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606.

We’ve fought long and hard so that Orange County veterans have a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

The fight isn’t over yet.

Let’s make sure Irvine keeps its promise to our veterans.

See you there!

Update:

I have seen the official appraisal of the two properties (the ARDA site and the Strawberry Fields site). The Strawberry Fields site, being given up by FivePoint, is by far the more valuable of the two properties.  It is the City of Irvine (not Fivepoint) that is getting the best of the land exchange for pennies on the dollar. ARDA Appraisal Report (1)

 

 

Support the 5th Marines Vietnam War Memorial

“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” — President John F. Kennedy

It was my great honor to contribute to the 5th Marines Vietnam Memorial.

Vietnam War veteran Bill Sandlin, USMC, ret., presents 5th Marines Challenge Coin to Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox.

The 5th Marines Vietnam Memorial is dedicated to planning, building, installing, and dedicating a monument at Camp Pendleton that will remember and honor the combat veterans of the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (1/5/1), who served during the Vietnam War, and, in particular, the 2,706 U.S.Marines and Sailors of the 5th Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Because of the generous donations of so many people, the manufacturing of the 6 black paneled granite has begun, and we are on track for the Dedication Ceremony on Memorial Day 2018. But we still have funds to raise to make the Memorial a reality.

The 5th Marine Regiment has a rich and distinguished history. Its reputation as the Marine Corps’ most decorated infantry regiment has been seared in the crucible of many wars and crises since its establishment in 1917, from the Battle of  Belleau Wood in World War I, the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II,  the Battle of Inchon in Korea, the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, and the Battle of Helmand Province in Afghanistan.  Today, the 5th Marines are involved in the battle against ISIS.

I have a personal connection to the 5th Marines. Several of my relatives served in the 5th Marines, including my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, who was killed in action in Korea during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Every American owes a debt to the 5th Marines, for their courage and service to this nation.

This Memorial is about the sacrifice made by the 5th Marines who courageously fought in Vietnam because our nation asked. It honors their courage, commitment to duty, and commitment to country, and it says that we will never forget them.

You can watch a video of the proposed Memorial here,

You can make a contribution here.

If you have the means, please join me in contributing to this very worthy cause of honoring the 2,706 U.S.Marines and Sailors of the 5th Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War.

Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox Receives OC Taxpayer Watchdog Award for Fiscal Responsibility!

Irvine, CA – On June 8, 2017, Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award from Orange County Auditor-Controller Eric H. Wollwery.

The Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award was for “demonstrating dedication to the protection of taxpayer funds and for the advocacy of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.”

Irvine City Councilmember Fox received the Award, along with Irvine Mayor Donald P, Wagner and Councilmember Christina Shea, for her successful efforts to designate agricultural land near the 5 and 405 freeways that was once part of the former Marine Air Station El Toro as a new Orange County Veterans Cemetery and Memorial in a land exchange with FivePoint Communities.

The land exchange with FivePoint Communities will ensure that the Veterans Cemetery is build faster and with approximately $80 million in savings for state and local taxpayers.

“I am honored to receive this award,” Councilmember Fox said.  “I ran on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar.  I also ran on the promise to build the Veterans Cemetery in Irvine at the old El Toro Marine base, and to build it as quickly as possible. I’m extremely happy that this land exchange has allowed me to fulfill both of these campaign promises.”

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

I believe that locating the Orange County Veterans Cemetery at the Strawberry Fields Site is by far the most advantageous option for the residents of Irvine.  This site, overwhelmingly preferred by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Committee (OCVMP), saves at a minimum $77.5 million in city, state and national tax dollars, does not require the substantial remediation and decontamination of the original site, and reduces traffic through the City.

My family has a long history of service. My father sacrificed his hearing and many years flying combat missions over North Korea as a bombardier and crew chief.  We lost his cousin at Inchon.  All of my uncles served in the Marine Corps.  My grandfathers and my father-in-law served in WWII in the Navy.  There are many more.  I respect and honor our military tradition and I serve the residents of Irvine.

I was one of the earliest and strongest advocates for a Veterans Cemetery located at the old El Toro Marine Air Station.  I attended and spoke at every Irvine City Council meeting where the Veterans Cemetery was discussed.

I was also tremendously proud that my father, a Korean War combat veteran, joined with many other Orange County veterans and spoke to the Irvine City Council, urging them to support a veterans cemetery in a portion of the former Marine Corps base.  As an Irvine resident and as the daughter of a combat veteran, I believe that it is time that Orange County offered its veterans, who have sacrificed so much for us, a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

My strong commitment to an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine base in Irvine has never wavered.  My goal remains to establish this cemetery as expeditiously as possible.

Here are the facts:

  • Neither the ARDA Site nor the Strawberry Fields Site are within the boundaries of the Great Park. Both are contiguous to the Great Park: The Wildlife Corridor bisects the Strawberry Field Site and the ARDA Site sits just to the north of the park.
  • For providing the Strawberry Fields Site and a financial commitment to build the entirety of the veterans cemetery through Phase 1, the developer seeks no additional entitlements, only to move what they already have at the Strawberry Fields Site to the ARDA Site, adding no new housingno additional traffic and no additional automobile trips.
  • The $77.5 million estimate to prepare the ARDA site is only an estimate. The ARDA Site contains 77 buildings that would need to be demolished, and a dump site filled with unknown materials dumped over the entire lifespan of the base.
  • The ARDA Site contains FAA facilities that must remain in use and cannot be removed.
  • The Strawberry Fields Site is currently used as agricultural fields. No decontamination or demolition would be necessary before construction could begin.
  • The majority of the funding for the Great Park comes from a settlement with the State of California for the return of $280 million over an unspecified period of time. A portion of those funds are dedicated to affordable housing, leaving $258 million available for the Park. The $38 million proposed by the City would come from these funds, necessarily reducing the funds available for gardens, museums, a library, maintenance and operations.
  • The veteran members of the OCVMP Committee, who have fought for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the old MCAS El Toro for many years, favor the Strawberry Field Site because it would be more visible from the freeway, has easier access, and the motorcade traffic and daily rifle volleys would not impact surrounding residences and schools.
  • The ARDA was last appraised in 2014 at $9,425,224. In 2015, the developer sold 72 acres adjacent to the Strawberry Fields Site for $128,000,000.

This is not  – and should not be  – a partisan or divisive issue.

Let’s do what’s best for Orange County veterans and for the residents of Irvine.

Let’s get it done.

Update:

The Irvine City Council voted on June 6, 2017, to designate the Strawberry Fields Site as the new location of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery.

The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Donald Wagner, Councilmember Christina Shea and myself voting in favor, and Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Lynn Schott voting against.

In addition, the State legislature has adopted two budget trailer bills related to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery that Governor Brown has now signed into law.  

These bills provide for:

§ $500,000 for CalVet study (site studies, concept plan and Phase I cost estimates).

§ Authorizes CalVet to acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery at the Bake Parkway [Strawberry Fields] Site.

§ Authorizes CalVet to submit a pre-application requesting Federal Cemetery Grant funds.

§ $5 million transfer to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Master Development Fund.

I believe that designating the Strawberry Fields Site will get the Veterans Cemetery built faster and with significant less cost.  In fact, it will save Irvine taxpayers upwards of $50 million — money that we can use to create more and better amenities at the Great Park, including museums, a library, and a world-class botanical garden.

I want to thank those elected officials who have stood with me throughout this process.

I want to thank Governor Brown for supporting the decision of the Irvine City Council to designate the Strawberry Fields Site as the better location for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery, and for signing the legislation quickly providing for state authorization and state funds for the Strawberry Fields Site.

I want to thank Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva for originating this process in the state legislature and seeing that it received the support of Governor Jerry Brown.  She made it clear that she would be pleased with the Strawberry Fields Site and that she “wholeheartedly back[ed] the decision of the Irvine City Council.”

I want to thank Congressman Lou Correa, who sent a letter to the Irvine City Council expressing his “support for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to be built on the “Strawberry Field” site at the old MCAS El Toro  . . . This is the site perferred by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Foundation and the consensus of most Veterans, family, and friends.”

I also want to thank State Senator Josh Newman, Chair of the California Senate Veterans Committee and proud U.S. Army veteran, for writing to the City Council stating that in his view “the recently presented alternative site [i.e., the Strawberry Fields Site] represents the best prospect for a feasible location and plan [for the Veterans Cemetery].”

I ran on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar.  I also ran on the promise to build the Veterans Cemetery in Irvine at the old El Toro Marine base, and to build it as quickly as possible. I’m extremely happy that this land exchange has allowed me to fulfill both of these campaign promises.

Listen to Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox’s Interview on KUCI’s “Ask a Leader”

Irvine, CA — Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox was recently interviewed by Claudia Shambaugh on KUCI’s award-winning program “Ask a Leader.”

The topics covered include the new composition of the Irvine City Council, Irvine’s recent progress on environmental issues, traffic, Melissa Fox’s goals for the Great Park,  and the Orange County Veterans Cemetery.

To listen to the podcast of the interview, click here.

Melissa Fox’s section of the podcast starts at 29:30, right after “Amazing Grace.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox Meets with State Senator Josh Newman, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, and Governor Brown’s Office to Secure State Support for Veterans Cemetery

Sacramento, CA — Councilmember Melissa Fox recently met with Senator Josh Newman, Assemblywoman Sharon-Quirk-Silva and Governor Jerry Brown’s Office in Sacramento to secure state support for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located in Irvine.  Senator Josh Newman is chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He is also a U.S. Army veteran, having served as an artillery officer in South Korea and elsewhere.  Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva authored the legislation (AB1453) that set in motion the State and Federal approval of plans that will lead to the construction of the veteran cemetery.  “We discussed the availability of state funding for the veterans cemetery, and I am certain that Senator Newman and Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva are committed to doing whatever they can to see that the veterans cemetery becomes a reality.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox has stated that she agrees with Senator Newman that “Any successful site for a future veterans cemetery should be consistent with the enabling legislation authored by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and passed in 2013; acceptable to the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park coalition; and in the best interests of Irvine, both fiscally and as part of the broader planning for the responsible development of the land around the El Toro site” and that “the alternative site solution may fulfill all three of those parameters, and as such would seem to merit a full exploration by the City Council.”

On April 4, the Irvine City Council adopted Councilmember Fox’s motion to both consider putting up $38 million of the City’s own money toward building the cemetery on the current proposed site in the Great Park and also to open discussions with developer FivePoint Communities on a land swap that would build the cemetery on a site next to the 5 Freeway that was also once part of MCAS El Toro.

Governor Brown has said that he intends to visit both the original site and the alternate site. “We’ll take both sites very seriously,” Assemblymember Quick-Silva said. “The governor’s interested in seeing both sites.”

Councilmember Fox has been on the forefront of Irvine residents calling for an Orange County veterans cemetery located in Irvine. Even before she was elected to the Irvine City Council, Fox worked closely with the members of the Orange County Memorial Park coalition to create a veterans cemetery on land that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

As early as March 2014, Fox stated that “Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state. This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County. Yet Orange County veterans do not have their own official military cemetery and those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a national cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties. As an Irvine resident and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I believe that it is time that Orange County offered its veterans, who have sacrificed so much for us, a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.”

“We are very close to fulfilling our promise to create a veterans cemetery in Irvine on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine base,” Fox said. “We cannot allow the veterans cemetery to be derailed by political vendettas and the personal grudges of politicians who care more about where it is located than whether it is actually built.”

Happy Thanksgving from the Fox Family!

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We Americans have much for which we are deeply grateful.

We are grateful for this great nation, for our freedoms, and for those whose sacrifices, past and present, have made those freedoms endure for generations.

We are grateful for our families and friends, and for the love that makes life worthwhile.

We are grateful for our beautiful, diverse City of Irvine.

We are grateful for the blessings of our beautiful planet and our beautiful state of California.

We are grateful for the volunteers who comfort the sick, care for the young and the aged, share their knowledge and skills, and keep us moving forward.

We are also grateful that we are fortunate enough to be able to help others.

Our family, especially during the holidays, supports ClothingDonations.org, a service of Vietnam Veterans of America. ClothingDonations.org will pick up your used clothes and household goods at your convenience and use them to support programs that address the needs of all our veterans.

We also support Families Forward, an Irvine-based organization that assists Orange County families in financial crisis to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency and helps these families to once again become independent, productive residents of the community. During the holidays,Families Forward also provides in-need families with festive food baskets and personalized holiday gifts.

Another worthy organization is the California Association of Food Banks, founded in 1995 to help hungry people throughout California, including our local Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County and the Community Action Partnership of Orange County Food Bank.

Our City of Irvine proudly and gratefully supports the Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee, which provides charitable and educational activities and support for the benefit and welfare of the United States Marines and their families assigned to Camp Pendleton, California, with special emphasis on the Marines and families of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines.

We also endorse giving to Socks for Heroes, which ships socks along with other essentials to United States Marine Corps combat infantry units, provides Marine children the ability to take advantage of swimming lessons, sports, and camps, and provides other programs for single Marines and Marine families during deployments.

We are grateful for our police and firefighters, our soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guardsmen and airmen.

We are grateful, too, for everyone in our community and our nation who protects us and serves those in need.

Our friend Michael Kinslow, who we lost two years ago, wrote a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving for those who protect and those who serve:

Thank you God for every woman and man who risks their life for my freedom and safety. Please bless their families with peace.

Thank you God for every child, woman, and man who volunteers in my community. All of those who feed the hungry, provide shelter, and all who put their hearts, minds, and souls into building up others and caring for all of your creatures. Please bless them in their own time of need.

Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving.