Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Lyle Cary was addressing the other 75 percent of Pantex's workforce Wednesday morning.
"You’re an indispensable part of that strategy" of nuclear deterrence, Cary said during the nuclear weapons plant's Armed Forces Day celebration. "You are keeping the peace."
About 250 people attended the ceremony at the John C. Drummond Center's auditorium. It was an opportunity for community members, Pantex employees and veterans to remember those fallen warriors and to reflect on the current state of affairs.
Cary is the vice president for safeguard, security and emergency services for Consolidated Nuclear Security, which operates the Pantex Plant and the Y-12 nuclear facility in Tennessee. He has seen the battles firsthand, having served in the Air Force for 25 years. He now sees the work being done at Pantex and Y-12 to try to prevent those battles.
We remember those who "have gone on before us and paid the price and sacrifice," said Cary during his keynote remarks. "We continue to serve and contribute to a purpose that is greater than ourselves.
"So departing from political correctness for just a moment; let’s face it. Our job is to scare the hell out of our potential adversaries and ensure that they would never consider using nuclear weapons against the U.S. or our allies."
Then looking up from the podium and out into the crowd, he said, "You have done that. You have kept the peace since World War II, throughout the Cold War and now with the insurgent nation-state threats. You’ve done that. Job well done."
Pantex Site Manager Todd Ailes said that about 25 percent of the plant's workforce is retired veterans. Cary gave credit to those workers and the remaining three-fourths who haven't seen combat but have helped in the peace process.
"The most critical mission of the joint force is nuclear deterrence, it is the backbone of our security," Cary said. "Nuclear conflict is the only existential threat to our security and our survivability. You have a critical role to deliver this capability to the joint force. Without you, nuclear deterrence does not happen."
Cary spends most of his time in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where CNS is headquartered, but does make it out to the Texas Panhandle about one week per month. He said he also frequently travels to Washington, D.C., and visiting Arlington National Cemetery is a humbling experience
"It is my hope that our elected leaders, as they deliberate on the issues of the day, regardless of party, they would gaze westward toward the hill with white crosses and stones (Arlington), and they will remember," Cary said.
Wednesday's event also included a tribute to prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
"They are commonly called POWs or MIAs, but we call them brothers and sisters," said Tori Hofeldt, former second class petty officer in the U.S. Navy. "They are unable to be with us today, so we remember them."
A simple, single table, known as the fallen comrade ceremony, was set up on the right side of the stage.
"This table, set for one, is small; symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner alone against oppressors," said Hofeldt, a graduate of Palo Duro High School.
The tablecloth is white and signifies the "purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms," she said.
A single red rose on the table "reminds us of families and loved ones of our comrades-in-arms. They keep the faith awaiting their return," Hofeldt said during the ceremony.
A red ribbon tied around the vase symbolizes the red ribbons worn by people who have an undying determination to demand a proper accounting of all soldiers, she said.
A lit candle on the table symbolizes the courage of spirit that can't be extinguished.
On the bread plate is a slice of lemon to "remind us of their bitter fate," and some salt to signify the tears of families awaiting their loved one's return, Hofeldt said.
The glass on the table is inverted because "they cannot toast with us today," she said. "The chair is empty. They are not here. We need to remember all who served with them and called them comrades. Until the day they come home: Remember."
She then rang a small bell and quietly walked off the stage.