IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The Idaho Falls Regional Airport and Idaho National Laboratory have joined forces in a gesture to help veterans in the community feel welcomed and celebrated in Southeast Idaho.
Airport staff and city officials unveiled a sign welcoming veterans to Idaho Falls on Thursday.
A short ceremony commenced with INL officials participating remotely due to ongoing restrictions related to COVID-19.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper gave a speech stressing the significance of the sign.
"It would be my hope that when a veteran-no matter where they live, where they're from, or where they served-when they walk into the baggage claim area of the Idaho Falls Regional Airport, that they feel appreciated,” Mayor Casper said.
IDA Executive Director Rick Cloutier is a Marine Corps veteran. He said when the INL approached the airport about the idea, it seemed like a natural and appropriate thing to do.
“I think it’s a good thing to welcome and honor our veterans as they’re coming through the airport and thank them for all the service they’ve done...for our country,” Clouiter said.
Cloutier says 22 veterans die by suicide per day. He hopes this sign will be a glimmer of hope to veterans, reminding them they are appreciated and not forgotten.
The INL provides critical nuclear technology to the navy’s nuclear propulsion system. 13 percent of the site’s workforce is made up of veterans. Because of this, there is a high percentage of veterans who live and work in Idaho Falls. Many more fly through IDA to conduct work for the INL.
Dr. Kerman said he got the idea for the welcome sign when he was flying through other airports around the country and noticed the commemoration for veterans. He said he pitched the idea to his associates because he felt Idaho Falls needed to recognize veterans that visit our community as well.
“It’s one of those feelings you get, like when you hear the national anthem and your patriotism has you standing up saying ‘this is really the right thing to do,’” Dr. Kerman said, “It feels right and it makes you recognize that you feel good about yourself because you are feeling good about others and what they have done for you and your country. We look forward to our next opportunity to engage with the city and do more things to honor our veterans.”
INL deputy laboratory director and chief operating officer, Juan Alvarez, is a Navy veteran. He said the INL wanted to honor local veterans and welcome those passing through.
"Every opportunity you get to recognize the sacrifices and the service of our armed forces members and those that have been veterans, I think we have to do that,” Alvarez said, “An opportunity to really give that recognition...[and] that acknowledgement, that is so important.”
The sign is located near the baggage claim area.
***CORRECTION: "Cloutier says the suicide rate amongst veterans is 22 percent" has been amended to read correctly, "Cloutier says 22 veterans die by suicide per day."