By Lee Zimmerman Daily Times Correspondent —
The skies may have been overcast, but even the intermittent rain couldn’t put a damper on the enthusiasm shared by those that participated in the Tennessee Veterans Business Association’s first annual TVBA Golf Tournament.
The event, which took place on Thursday afternoon at the Green Meadow Country Club in Alcoa, attracted approximately 50 golfers who competed for trophies as well as the opportunity to hear a keynote speech from retired Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell, a resident of Johnson City and a decorated veteran of several overseas military campaigns. The Daily Times was one of the event sponsors.
Welcoming remarks were given by TVBA’s Program Ambassador Steve Stilts. Then, following the presentation of colors by members of the local military and a lunch shared by those in attendance, Harrell was introduced by Michael Lewis, his partner at the Harrell Group, a company specializing in domestic and international risk security solutions.
“A partner knows things about you that you wish he wouldn’t say,” the general quipped as he began his comments. He gave a wide-ranging speech that included his reflections on some of the campaigns he had taken part in over the course of his distinguished 35-year military career. They included operations in Panama, Somalia and the Middle East, where he helped oversee Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. He later served in a command role with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Response Force in the Netherlands, where he oversaw NATO’s operations in Afghanistan.
Harrell began his remarks by bemoaning the fact that civics and history are taught in public schools in what he termed a “revisionist” way. “My politics are just to the right of Attila the Hun,” he joked, before expressing his concerns about some of the judicial objections to President Trump’s executive orders on immigration. “One hundred dollars can buy all the documentation needed to come into this country,” he said, adding that it was difficult to properly vet those that wish to immigrate from countries that don’t have adequate databases to weed out those who might be terrorists and prone to acts of violence.
“I have nothing against immigration,” the general told the group. “Our country was built on that. But if you’re not willing to assimilate, then stay where you are.”
Harrell then addressed the veterans in attendance, noting that the American military was one of the best in the world. He praised Trump for an apparent willingness to budget the funds needed to support the armed forces. He then went on to tout the successes of the nation’s armed forces, beginning with the long odds faced by American forces in the Revolutionary War to the recent wars the nation has been involved with in the Middle East and Africa.
“We didn’t take over and colonize the countries where we fought,” he insisted. “We only asked for a place to bury our dead.”
‘Black Hawk Down’
He also disputed those who insisted that the 1993 mission in Mogadishu in which two U.S. helicopters were shot down and 19 American servicemen died — a battle later recounted in the film “Black Hawk Down” — was not a failure as some had insisted. The operation resulted in the rescue of numerous hostages, he explained. “If you think that’s a defeat, I’ll be happy to debate that.”
Harrell saved his final comments on the need to support military veterans. “If you know a vet, give them a hug,” he suggested. He went on to suggest that it would be best to do away with the Veteran Affairs agency and instead, give each veteran a credit card that would allow them to go to a health treatment center for the care they need. He suggested that too much money goes to building garages and that Trump understands there is a better way to spend the funds needed for retired members of the military.
Ultimately, Harrell couldn’t have spoke to a more receptive audience. The TVBA, a group was founded in 2010 to help veterans and business owners find economic opportunities, business solutions, and networking possibilities, and to provide them with a competitive edge in today’s economic and regulatory environment.
“What a honor to have a local Tennessee hero like this speak at our first annual TVBA Golf Tournament,” Steve Stilts commented later. “All of us ought to really appreciate what he has done for our country. I want to thank him and everyone else for their support of our veteran business owners, to whom we owe so much for their sacrifices and service.”