Writer Joseph J. Airdo
This month marks the official start of the Anthem Veterans Memorial’s second decade of programming — something that, since its founding on Nov. 11, 2011, has become a remarkable point of pride for the community.
“I do not think that any of the original planning committee volunteers could have predicted that the Anthem Veterans Memorial would be known around the world, become an Arizona historic landmark or be a tourist destination for thousands of people annually,” says Elizabeth Turner, who is the proud daughter of a United States Marine and programming director for Anthem Veterans Memorial.
On Friday, Nov. 11, Anthem Community Council will host its 11th annual Veterans Day concert and ceremony at the memorial, paying tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Navy aircraft carriers, the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, the 60th anniversary of the Navy Seals and the 30th anniversary of Operation Restore Hope.
This year’s event will be preceded by a free patriotic concert performed by Musical Theatre of Anthem and ProMusica Arizona Chorale and Orchestra as well as a ceremony during which Vietnam War veterans will be invited to come to the front of the stage to receive commemorative pins.
“This commemorative pin symbolizes our recognition and respect for our Vietnam Veterans and allows us to personally say to them, ‘Welcome home,’” Turner says. “We are grateful to the Daisy Mountain Veterans, who will assist us with this pinning [ceremony].”
Tennessee Grill will sell breakfast sandwiches and beverages beginning at 8:30 a.m., prior to the start of the ceremony. The restaurant’s owner, Marine veteran Ryan Ladiser, says that the opportunity to do so comes with a sense of great pride.
“We are honored to help open the second decade of Anthem Veterans Memorial programming and to support this patriotic event,” he says. “We hope everyone comes early to have a picnic breakfast as they listen to the free pre-ceremony concert and watch our Vietnam veterans welcomed home. The ceremony will be amazing this year.”
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas H. Kirk, Jr. will provide the keynote address, sharing with attendees his story of heroism and immense optimism. In addition to flying combat planes in the Korean War and NATO Operations, Kirk led the largest flight mission in the Vietnam War. During the mission, his plane took fire. After completing his assignment, he ejected and was taken as a POW for nearly six years.
Meanwhile, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Amber Cargile will once again serve as the event’s mistress of ceremonies. Cargile has a long history of volunteer service with the Anthem Veterans Memorial, serving as protocol advisor during its inaugural Veterans Day ceremony in 2011 and assisting with script research as well as ensuring the flawless lead-up to its 11:11 a.m. solar spotlight ever since.
Profound Resilience and Hope
The daughter of a retired chief master sergeant, Cargile was living in a military quarters on a United States Air Force base in Germany on Aug. 31, 1981.
“I had just started seventh grade at Ramstein Junior High School,” Cargile says. “My dad was already at work and I was getting ready for school when, around 7 a.m., there was a large blast and our windows rattled. It was louder than a sonic boom, but we did not know what it was. I left to walk to school and, on my way, I saw a big plume of smoke and heard sirens.”
When Cargile arrive at school, the campus was put on lockdown.
“We later learned that the Red Army Faction had detonated a car bomb at the United States Air Force’s Europe headquarters — a few blocks from my home and school,” she adds. “Nearly two dozen people were injured in the attack. Experiencing a terrorist attack in close proximity to my home was a pivotal experience for me as a military brat. Sadly, 40 years later, after many larger and deadlier terrorist attacks, this does not seem unusual. But it was a bellwether of things to come and a day that I will never forget.”
Cargile joined the United States Air Force after college in 1991 and was commissioned through its officer training school.
“I was lucky to get in that year,” she says. “During the recession of the early 90s, there were a lot of military cutbacks and my class was, at the time, the smallest in Air Force history.”
Cargile’s first assignment was as a logistics officer at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
“As a 22-year-old second lieutenant, I was put in charge of a flight of 65 Airmen,” she explains. “I was young, inexperienced and had a lot to learn. Thankfully, I worked with strong non-commissioned officers who taught me about leadership and made sure I was successful.”
After a couple of years serving in the squadron, Cargile was selected to serve a one-year special assignment as the 28th Bomb Wing’s executive officer.
“That staff position at wing headquarters opened my eyes to the bigger picture of how our B-1B bomber mission operated and how we fit into the larger Air Force,” she says. “After that year was up, because of my prior experience in radio news, I wanted to cross train out of logistics and into public affairs and I was able to do so.”
Cargile spent her final year at Ellsworth as the deputy chief of public affairs for the base.
“My time at Ellsworth was great, with experiences as varied as supporting a global power show of force mission along the Iraq/Kuwait border, to working with international media during the decommissioning of the Minuteman II nuclear missiles and Russian START nuclear treaty inspections,” Cargile says.
“During that time, the Air Force also sent me to training to learn about environmental remediation and I did a lot of public outreach related to environmental cleanup around the base — which was a Superfund site. That environmental training and experience later formed the foundation for work I did in the private sector after leaving active duty.”
When Cargile made captain in 1995, she was transferred as a public affairs officer to Headquarters Air Intelligence Agency on Security Hill in San Antonio, Texas — which is now known as 16th Air Force.
“It was an exciting time to work in the intelligence community, as the internet was taking off globally and some of the initial doctrine on cyber and information warfare was beginning to crystallize,” she says.
After her children were born in 1998, Cargile made the decision to transfer from active duty to the Reserve.
“I was fortunate to be selected for the Individual Mobilization Augmentee program, in which I was able to continue to serve with the Agency at Security Hill as an individual Reservist attached to the active duty,” she adds.
In 2000, Cargile moved to Anthem with her family and, for the next 11 years, continued to travel back and forth to Texas to serve with the active duty unit for anywhere from several weeks to months each year. She was subsequently promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel.
“Some of the highlights of those years included supporting the response to the Hainan Island international incident in 2001, joint war planning efforts after 9/11, deploying to Guam following the Asian tsunami in 2005 and deploying to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010,” Cargile says.
“The deployment to Haiti was the most poignant experience of my career. I served as the deputy spokesperson for the military’s Joint Task Force. I also served as the U.S. military liaison to a United Nations-led communications working group that was developing the safe shelter strategy for 2 million displaced Haitians.
“I was embedded with soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps and U.S. Southern Command. We lived and worked on a parking lot next to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. I witnessed loss and destruction on a biblical scale there — and I also witnessed a lot of profound resilience and hope in the Haitian people. I came home a changed person.”
Cargile retired from the Reserve after 20 years of service in 2011.
A Privilege to Serve
Anytime that someone thanks Cargile for her service, she responds that it was her privilege to serve.
“I have received far more gifts from my service than I have given,” she explains. “My dad’s military service meant I grew up living around the world, moving every few years. It was not always easy to be a military brat, but because of that childhood, I learned how to adapt to change and how to get along with all different kinds of people.
“I also learned that I can be happy in a lot of different situations and places. I developed a patriotic love of America paired with a global viewpoint. And in terms of my own service, I learned about self-discipline, resilience and leadership.”
When Cargile first learned of the fundraising for Anthem Veterans Memorial, she did not hesitate to lend her support. She and her husband bought pavers and, several times since then, she has helped out with the community’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.
“My contributions have been small in the overall scope of this amazing program,” Cargile says. “It means so much that the memorial was built with fundraising from the local community and that the memorial was even designed by a local resident. I was thrilled when it was designated an Arizona historic landmark 10 years ago. It really is a crown jewel not only for Anthem but for Arizona’s veteran community.”
Turner says that Cargile is far too modest about her service to Anthem Veterans Memorial.
“When we started this project, I was not familiar with how to correctly identify veterans’ names, ranks, rates, branches and so on for print,” Turner explains. “The last thing we ever wanted to do was incorrectly identify someone who had served and sacrificed for our country.
“Lt. Col. Cargile volunteered to serve as our protocol adviser. She provided me with a lesson on military identification, reviewed the script and corrected errors in our ceremony program before print. Honestly, she ensured everything that went out to the public was ‘military correct.’”
Turner adds that Cargile has also helped with script writing for special military tributes as well as served as the mistress of ceremonies — a job that is incredibly important as it requires her to cover more than 120 pages of script with four endings while also adapting to time and cut when needed.
“I count on her at that podium and she always delivers a flawless program,” Turner says. “Her support of Anthem Veterans Memorial is very admirable.”
Honor, Salute and Support
Turner says that Anthem Veterans Memorial’s focus and mission is to honor, salute and support veterans and their families. However, its scope has expanded in many ways over the past decade.
“In addition to serving as a place of honor and quiet reflection, it has become a location for educating all generations about veteran service and sacrifice,” she explains. “We host school children throughout the year to teach them about our veterans’ service and sacrifice, important military days in history and the symbolism behind the memorial.”
Cargile says that the educational aspect of Anthem Veterans Memorial is especially remarkable.
“According to the Census Bureau, only about 7% of the nation’s adult population has served in the military,” she adds. “In my opinion, it is important that we teach our children that the freedoms they enjoy were earned through the sacrifice of many veterans. It is also very important for people to realize veterans live around them and are part of the thread of their community.”
Turner says that her heart is touched each and every time that she visits Anthem Veterans Memorial. She is especially moved every time she walks the Circle of Honor and reads the names of the veterans who served and died for our country.
“To see a child trace the letters of her grandfather’s paver, watch a veteran say a prayer while kneeling next to his friend’s paver or watch three generations of veterans share their stories with a stranger are moments one simply can never forget,” she adds.
“I am one of the few people who have had the privilege of meeting the veterans or family members for almost every paver laid there. Every veteran’s story is personal. Whether he or she served in wartime or peacetime, the selfless sacrifice that person and his or her family made to protect everything for which this country stands exemplifies the meaning of a hero. Anthem Veterans Memorial changed my life and will continue to change lives for generations to come.”
Cargile agrees, noting that she is filled with pride and gratitude when she visits the memorial.
“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve our nation in uniform and proud of the amazing men and women with whom I served and the work that we did,” she explains. “It is very humbling to have been part of a group like that.
“I am also proud of my community and grateful for its efforts to recognize veterans. That is one of the many reasons I have chosen to live in Anthem for two decades. The ceremony is very poignant and there is rarely a dry eye by the end of the event. I think that anyone who attends will feel a burst of patriotism, gratitude and connection with fellow veterans and the community at large.”
Veterans Day Concert and Ceremony // Friday, Nov. 11 // 9:30–11:15 a.m. // Anthem Veterans Memorial // 41703 N. Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem // Free // onlineatanthem.com