As the executive officer of the CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs, I felt obligated to respond to a social media post on the Veterans Cemetery that appeared on the Facebook page of Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan on June 26, 2020, that was highly misinformed.
Respectfully to the delegate, the CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs is already underway with the project to fence the entirety of the Veterans Cemetery. The permit process has been completed, fence location markings are being completed now and the installation of the fence is scheduled to begin next month. The fencing is part of the second phase of improvements to the Veterans Cemetery that this office was able to get the resources for. You would have known this had you communicated with our Veterans Affairs office.
More recently, as you might have seen in the media, the Office of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Public Lands organized a meeting with the cattle grazers in the Marpi area to discuss this issue. This included discussion about their responsibility to ensure their fencing is maintained. That meeting included all of the stakeholders, the Office of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Public Lands, the Division of Parks and Recreation, the Marianas Visitor’s Authority, veterans, and the Marpi area cattle grazers. It also included an invitation to all of the media. As your Facebook post comes after this meeting, you were most likely aware that the issue with free-roaming cattle in Marpi and specifically their trespass at the Veterans Cemetery was already being addressed. You would certainly have known this had you extended us the courtesy of a phone call or email.
As most are aware, there has been farming and cattle grazing in the Marpi area for decades. The construction of the relatively new Veterans Cemetery did not include funding for a security wall or fence. This is why this administration worked to get the additional funding necessary to see the fencing and other improvements.
That said, my office—that is, my staff and I—and the Department of Public Works, who keep the grass maintained, have worked in the interim to keep the Veterans Cemetery as clean as possible. My staff and I visit the cemetery two to three times a day to remove the cattle manure. Because of a nearby construction and humidity, we also regularly dust off the markers and remove mildew. We do this every day and on austerity Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as well. We cannot police the cattle all day long every day. You would have known this had you the courtesy of reaching out to our Office of Veterans Affairs.
Had your office contacted our office, you would have been apprised of the active effort to resolve this issue. You have not contacted the Office of Veterans Affairs one single time during my term as executive officer to discuss any matters pertaining to CNMI veterans. We have reached out to you on several occasions to discuss our plans. The suggestion by you, that the staff of this office or the administration honors our veterans only on Memorial Day, is untoward and unbecoming of your office. I am a veteran, serving 19 years as an Air Force airman (MSgt), who has supported two theaters and continue to serve the next six years as a reservist. Those who lie there, who are buried at that cemetery, are my brothers-in-arms. The staff of the Office of Veterans Affairs have worked tirelessly in the service of my fellow veterans and the memory of my fallen brothers.
I humbly ask you, as a fellow veteran, to reach out to me any time to discuss matters relating to our veterans or our services, plans, and efforts, so that we can better work together to overcome the challenges and for the benefit of our fellow veterans.
Stanley T. Iakopo (Soecial to the Saipan Tribune)
Stanley T. Iakopo is executive officer of the CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs.