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This article is a guest blog: by Lt. Colonol Ravi Chaudhary; an Air Force officer who works as strategic planner at the Pentagon.
Veterans Day is a solemn day in America. It is a day where we take time to honor those who have served in the U.S. Military in times of conflict, and recognize their sacrifices. It is a day where we put aside our differences, political or otherwise, and remember those service members and their families who have paid the ultimate price in defense of our Nation.
The universal wonder of this occasion is widespread, and can be found in the smallest communities across America, where events of remembrance are accomplished in unique ways. Surprisingly, I found one such community effort deep in hallways of the Pentagon where I work.
Three gentlemen, all Indian Americans, gather each week in the Pentagon to conduct Hindu services in a very special way. Dr. Ram Bhat, Mr. Bhuj Gidwani and Mr. Hitul Thaker serve in various Department of Defense organizations in the D.C. area, yet they gather in the Pentagon each week to express their Patriotism and support for men and women serving in the U.S. Military. Their remembrances are short in duration, lasting a mere 20 to 30 minutes. The format is simple and succinct; but the spiritual energy they offer would rival any 21 gun salute.
“We are here to show our support for the members of Department of Defense serving all over the world,” says Dr. Rham Bhat, who works at Bolling AFB. Outside the modest chapel area, the bustling sound of Pentagon Action Officers (mid and senior level officers) rushing to their daily briefings carries on. “It is an intense feeling of Patriotism that brings us together each week, and we’ve enjoyed tremendous support from the Chaplain’s office here at the Pentagon,” said Mr. Thakur, who works and Walter Reed Medical Center, and has also served on active duty in the USAF. A few feet away from where they conduct their services, the Pentagon Memorial provides a constant reminder of those lost on September 11, and enlightens the group on their purpose. At the conclusion of their service, Mr. Thakur and his group share heartfelt “Prasadam” (or gracious offerings of small snacks) with the U.S. Army Chaplain’s office. They trade cultural stories with members of the staff and give thanks for their gathering.
It comes as no surprise that their message of service and patriotism is growing, and they are having a positive impact. News of their gathering is spreading throughout the Indian American community. This year they have energized communities in Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and Minnesota to conduct Veterans Day remembrance events of their own, as well as volunteer-related tasks for Veterans. They have also recently garnered support from the President’s Advisory Council on Community Partnerships, who are mobilizing several charitable events to serve Veterans this year. Anju Bhargava, member of the Advisory Council said, “The term ‘Seva,’ is a well-known Hindu reference to the generous act of service. We are thrilled to support their efforts to serve Veterans throughout the D.C. community and beyond.” Mrs. Bhargava is coordinating efforts for Indian communities to shelter homeless Veterans in New Jersey, as well as an initiative to garner support for Veterans from American hotel chains.
The significance of Dr. Bhat and his group’s effort is that they tell a broader American story on Veteran’s day. It is a story of all American communities, steeped in cultural tradition. Yet their unique brand of patriotism transcends traditional boundaries, and serves as a unifying force for our country. They convey their thoughts and prayers for servicemen through their own cultural lens. their acts resonate across cultural lines for a single purpose: support for military members serving all around the world.
As I sit down with my family this Veterans day and give thanks for servicemembers and their families who’ve given their all, I’ll reflect on my own experiences as an Air Force officer, and how our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines work together to serve our great Nation. I’ll think of patriots like Dr. Bhat, Mr. Gidwani and Mr. Thaker who take time out each week and pledge their support to raise awareness for Veterans in their communities through their own cultural lens. They truly exercise their freedoms as our forefathers had intended…in ways that bind us as a Nation–freedoms that all Veteran believe are worth fighting for.
Above all this Veterans Day, I’ll think of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to serve their country. May their families remain in the thoughts and prayers of all communities across America–communities that embody the words written on the great seal of the United States “E’ Pluribus Unum,” that out of many, we are one.
Groups interested in partnering with Dr. Bhat and his group can reach him at [email protected]