Veterans Day Event Will Dedicate Desert Storm Monument

A new monument honoring veterans of Operation Desert Storm will be dedicated Saturday at Lakeland’s annual Veterans Day ceremony, and this year’s event will include a local veterans’ advocate who recently received a statewide award.

Col. Gary Clark, the founder and current chairman of the Polk County Veterans Council, was recently inducted into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

The Veterans Day ceremony is hosted by The Polk County Veterans Council and Lakeland-area Rotary Clubs. In addition to the annual veterans salute, the event will include the dedication of a new monument in Veterans Park honoring veterans of Operation Desert Storm. 

It starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at Veterans Park, 141 Lake Beulah Drive.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the ceremony will be modified from previous years and will include the traditional Rotary Club breakfast honors. 

A few of the honors will be:

  • World War II veterans 
  • Veteran of the year
  • Supporter for veterans of the year
  • Cadet of the year from Florida Southern College

Attendees are encouraged to wear masks at the event.

The Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame recognition focuses ‎on post-military contributions to the state of Florida. Clark has led Polk County veterans efforts for more than 25 years. 

“This is a team effort,” Clark said about his Hall of Fame induction. “It’s less about me than about the people and the community and the folks that we work with.”

Clark grew up in Kansas and graduated from Kansas State University in 1967 with a bachelors degree in mathematics. He later earned masters degrees in operations research at the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology and diplomacy and strategy at the National War College.

He began his service in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. He moved up to serve as special assistant to the Air Force Chief of Staff ahead of the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan.

Next, he served as the director of Air force Personnel Plans and Programs at the Air Force Military Personnel Center and then as the director of personnel for Air Training Command.

Col. Clark’s final role during his tenure of active service was during Desert Shield and Desert Storm where he served as the U.S. Central Command J-1 Director, where he was responsible for force deployment, POW repatriation and accountability.

Col. Clark retired from the USAF after 26 years of active duty in 1993.

“I hadn’t planned on retiring when I did,” Col. Clark said. “I was offered a position here with the city of Lakeland and I made the decision to take the job” of civil service director.

Now, as the chairman for the Polk County Veterans Council, he often assists fellow veterans in dealing with the Veterans Administration and with volunteer opportunities in the community.

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