Update from Rep. Velis

Good morning, Westfield. Hope you’ve all been enjoying the start of a new season and readjusting well to your daily routines after a restful summer.

Last week marked the 16th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies in American history. Like many, I still remember where I was September 11th, 2001 when I heard the news about the simultaneous attacks on some of our nation’s greatest landmarks. I want to thank the City of Westfield for continuing to hold 3 different ceremonies every year to remember the residents we lost on that day. As long as I live here, State Rep or not, I will always make it a priority to attend those services.

To this day, the events of that Tuesday morning continue to shape our domestic politics, foreign policy, and general world view. It is simply one of those moments you can never forget- a moment that makes you stop and take stock of what’s important and what’s not. I recently had another one of those moments while serving abroad in South Korea with the Army. As many of you know, I was a part of the military training exercises taking place there during the month of August. There’s no getting around the fact that South Korea is, for the foreseeable future, in an existential crisis. The North Koreans have nuclear weapons that could destroy their country on the whim of an unstable dictator.

One of the things that really impacted me the most during the exercises was the attitude of the people who live there. Walking through Seoul, a city of 24 million people who live within striking distance of North Korea, and talking to the people, you would never know that they are in danger. I asked the South Korean soldiers one night why people didn’t seem more scared- there general response was that “it is what it is” and that there’s no use in worrying about something out of their control. The only part of the situation they could control was their response, so they choose to carry on and live their lives the best they can.

My trip to South Korea has really put things into perspective for me. Too often, I get caught up in daily life and politics, and I end up sweating the small stuff. We’re lucky to be living in relative peace and security that allows us to worry about unimportant things like our neighbors’ lawns or the traffic during our morning commutes.

The South Korean troops I met over there weren’t overly concerned with approval ratings for politicians or arbitrary deadlines on legislation. They are concerned with spending time with their friends and family and making their country a better place to live. I’ve seen similar attitudes in the Afghans I worked with when I was deployed in 2012 and people living along the Israeli-Palestinian conflict zone. It amazes me every time, and it’s something that I am going to strive to hold on to from now on.

At the end of the day, this trip has only reinforced for me that we live in the greatest country in the world. I couldn’t be prouder to be an American and to serve with my brothers and sisters in the Army and other branches of service. Our military is the most professional and lethal force on Earth and I’m proud to be a part of it. I always say that if anyone ever doubts that the US is the best country in the world, they should go abroad and then tell me what they think. I’m happy to have had the chance to go to South Korea, but there’s nothing better than stepping off that plane stateside. God bless all who are still serving over there and in other places around the globe- we owe you everything.

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