COVINGTON - Giving service to the community is not charity; it's a patriotic act and obligation, said Brig. Gen. Les Carroll, who was the keynote speaker at the Covington-Newton County United Way fundraising campaign kickoff held Friday at Turner Lake Complex.
Carroll, a Covington resident, said his charge from United Way Director Doris Strickland was "to motivate the troops" to help the organization reach its $475,000 goal.
But, he said, those who attended Friday's event likely don't need motivating. The challenge will be taking the United Way's message to the entire community.
"No matter how smart the general is or how well-organized a plan he has, until the last sergeant tells the last private to walk point, nothing happens," Carroll said. "That's where our heart has to be, is in the execution of what we know has to be done."
Carroll said it's up to local communities to keep the values and morals the country was founded on alive.
"Military strength, no matter how well-armed, can only free you from the tyrant. It cannot establish a society," he said.
There are currently 2.9 million American soldiers, active and reserve, representing less than 1 percent of the nation's population, he said.
"Only 1 percent of our population can't establish the freedom and morals we cherish," he said.
Carroll said it is an act of patriotism for citizens to take on that role.
"Our community and our nation is in peril from within. No matter what tribe you are from, we have to work together ... That's the problem in the Middle East. We can't get them to leave their tribes and work together," he said.
With personal debt and bankruptcies at an all-time high, Generation X is set to become the first generation to not be in better financial shape than its parents, he said.
There are 1.2 million high school drop outs annually in the United States, and the dropout rate in Newton County was 19 percent in 2007, he said.
One-third of school-aged children are obese or overweight, which some think will be the biggest challenge the nation's health care system has ever faced, he said.
All of these problems are community issues, and the United Way has goals of reducing families living below the poverty level and the drop out rate by 50 percent, as well as reducing the number of obese children by one-third, Carroll said.
While most Americans choose to only indulge in the benefits of liberty, those who contribute to organizations like the United Way choose to help sustain that liberty, he said.
"Service to our community is not charity. It is a sacred obligation," he said.
Carroll has been selected to become commanding general of the 4th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, on Oct. 1.
He recently served as deputy chief of staff, director of operations, plans and training at the U.S. Army Reserve Command in Fort McPherson. In that capacity, Carroll was responsible for the overall operations of the nation's 206,000 Army Reserve soldiers in over 1,800 units worldwide.
He and his wife, Linda, have lived in Covington since 1981 and have four children.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: A good start
The Covington-Newton County United Way is off to a good start with its 2009-2010 fundraising campaign. At a kickoff luncheon held Friday, United Way Board of Directors President Bill Hardy announced that General Mills has raised $123,317 in employee and corporate donations and Pactiv Corporation has raised $14,000.
Other businesses will be kicking off their campaigns in the coming weeks. The United Way distributes the money raised to local nonprofit agencies.
Most contributions are made through employee payroll deductions by local industries and businesses. Civic organizations and individuals may also contribute, however. The campaign will run through November.
Individuals who would like to contribute should make checks payable to United Way. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 1344, Covington, GA 30015.
To learn more about United Way, call 770-786-7638.