For 45 years, the NCSL Legislative Summit and summer were linked together. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything changed. There was no in-person Summit in 2020. And in 2021, the Summit was moved to the fall.
That’s when the NCSL Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs saw an opportunity. The rescheduled conference, set for Nov. 3-5, would take place just one week before Veterans Day. The task force’s question became, “How can we best mesh our purpose with a celebration of this national holiday?” The answer: a general session titled “Honoring All Who Served.”
This special tribute honored all the military veterans who continue the act of service in state legislatures, as legislators or legislative staff. NCSL had recently identified all the legislators who were military veterans or who were serving in the National Guard or reserves.
Quilts of Valor
At the tribute, Washington Representative Tina Orwall (D) and Alaska Senator Josh Revak (R), the task force’s co-chair and vice chair, respectively, presented two quilts made by NCSL’s Brenda Erickson to the Quilts of Valor Foundation on behalf of NCSL. Afterward, former U.S. Marine Capt. Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, America’s first Black female combat pilot, shared her gutsy story.
Revak, who was wounded by enemy mortar fire during his second tour with the U.S. Army in Iraq, recounted how he received a quilt while recovering in a German hospital. “It kept me warm,” he said. “It lifted my spirits, and most of all, it helped me believe I was not alone. I still have the quilt. It still comforts me and reminds me to help others in need.”
The two quilts donated on behalf of NCSL took Erickson about two months to make. “I chose patterns that were relatively simple to sew, because I didn’t have much time to complete the quilts,” said Erickson, who has been quilting for more than 20 years. “The first pattern—the square star quilt—was somewhat traditional, so I chose a more modern style for the second.”
Erickson said quilts represent careful craftmanship, warmth and comfort, adding, “I hope a recipient realizes that someone cares, and this brings a sense of well-being.”
Why did I make the quilts?
Making quilts brings me joy. It’s my creative outlet—or, as my friends say, my creative obsession. It’s my chance to use the “other side” of my brain.
At a class reunion celebration this summer, Quilts of Valor were presented to classmates who were veterans. I saw firsthand how much the quilts meant to the recipients. As I watched through my tears, I thought, “I’d like to be part of this effort.”
A month or so later, I was asked to serve on an NCSL team planning a Legislative Summit program to honor veterans. So, I guess you’d say, my wish was fulfilled.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation, started by a Blue Star mother in 2003, has awarded more than 250,000 quilts to service members and veterans. Its mission is to “cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.” The organization estimates that at any given moment, they have a backlog of 10,000 to 15,000 requests for quilts.
Military and Veterans Task Force
NCSL’s Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs was created in 2007 to address issues affecting military community relations and the health and well-being of veterans. The 46 state legislators and legislative staff representing 24 states and Puerto Rico take on a variety of topics, including veteran employment initiatives and hiring preferences; development near military installations; education programs; mental health and suicide prevention; housing; and benefits for military personnel, veterans and their dependents. Co-chaired by Orwall and Virginia Senator Bryce Reeves (R), the task force allows legislators and legislative staff to share best practices and innovations to assist military service members and veterans in their states and work with nearby military installations on a variety of issues.
NCSL hopes you will join us as we recognize and honor all who served and continue to serve.
Jim Reed is the director of NCSL’s Energy, Environment and Transportation Program and serves as staff to the Task Force on Military and Veteran Affairs.
Brenda Erickson is a program principal in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program.