Saturday night at the Lawrence County Republic Committee’s Fall Dinner, Major Eric Burkett presented a challenge.
The former Marine pilot and Wounded Warrior challenged everyone to carve 15 minutes out of their day on Tuesday to vote and then think about the mark they have made on their government and the mark their lives will make.
“We have a tremendous privilege to exercise as Americans on Tuesday, the 5th of November,” Burkett said. “It is a way to make our mark. It is not just by getting in the ballot booth, but make our mark on our country. It takes about 15 minutes.
“There are a lot of countries around the world who claim they are a democracy and votes count. I have been to a lot of the free countries, and some of the not-so-free countries, I will tell you that America is special. People will complain about the system, but I will argue that with my last breath - America is special, America is different.”
“We have a special privilege here as Americans.”
Burkett was wounded on April 11, 2012, when the MV-22 Osprey he was piloting crashed while on a mission in northwest Africa. He spent four years in recovery at Walter Reed National Medical Military hospital in Bethesda where he met many like-minded service men and women.
“I met a lot of good men, like-minded who were facing challenges. Almost to a man, woman, they said they would do it again.”
Burkett was born and raised in Mississippi. His father was a Marine and the family’s military service in the United States dates back to the American Revolution.
“My dad told me I didn’t have to be a Marine because he was a Marine,” Burkett said. “I told him that’s not about you. I really do think in my heart God put me on this Earth to be a Marine. Despite it all, he supported me.
“I knew this country was special. When I found that out, it reinforced everything I believed about this country. Of all the men before me in my line who were willing to put it out there for their country, it only made sense.”
Burkett said he understood the costs of military service as his father, who was also an aviator, would tell stories “every now and again at the dinner table” of his pears who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“I knew that what I was endeavoring to do was very risky. It culminated the day I earned my wings,” Burkett said. “At that ceremony, my dad pinned his wings on me. He said, “if it’s not you, it’s who, but it’s not if but when.
“What he meant by that was it is going to happen, it is going to happen around you, it could happen to you.”
Burkett experienced losing a classmate who didn’t get his wings as he died while flying. He said that shortly after he made it to the fleet, another classmate was shot down over Iraq and another lost at sea in a helicopter crash.
“It kept happening,” Burkett said. “I knew the risks, but it didn’t change anything because I knew how special this country was and I knew what I was fighting for.”
Burkett then encouraged everyone to go to their polling place on Tuesday and cast their vote.
“Certainly, it is worth 15 minutes to break away and go make your mark in that little voting booth,” Burkett said. “Certainly worth respecting their sacrifice to keep us in a country that allows the privilege to vote.”
He then said he would never want to be involved in government, but would gladly go back and continue fighting “the bad guys.”
“With my gratitude comes a challenge. I challenge you, right here right now, to encourage your friends and neighbors to pack out 15 minutes of your day on Tuesday, Nov. 5 to make your mark. More importantly, after that 15 minutes is over, I want you to think about the mark God has set for you and going for that, as well.”