By Sarah Chacko
Killeen Daily Herald
Local leaders and residents from around Bell and Coryell counties said goodbye to an old friend Sunday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
Though U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards will be sorely missed as a representative for the area, his appreciation dinner ended with Edwards giving thanks back to the communities that have supported him for the past 14 years.
"Thank you for giving me the greatest professional privilege of my life," Edwards said.
In November, Edwards was re-elected to his eighth term in Congress, but he now will serve District 17, a district born out of a 2003 congressional redistricting plan. Edwards' district no longer includes Bell and Coryell counties. Much of the Greater Fort Hood area is now in District 31, represented by second-term Round Rock Republican John Carter.
Eight speakers took the stage to applaud Edwards' achievements and influential work in areas ranging from education for military children to veterans support.
Pam Metz, wife of Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of III Corps and the 3rd Multi National Corps in Iraq, commended Edwards on his constant voice for the concerns and needs of spouses and families of Fort Hood soldiers.
From privatizing Army housing to providing quality, accessible health care, Metz thanked Edwards for all his work for military families.
"Chet definitely doesn't just pay lip service to this," she said.
Former Killeen Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Gilmore said Edwards is a very family-oriented person and he extended the same care and concern to everyone he represented.
"He's served this community and the Fort Hood area for all these years, and tonight we're saying 'Thank you,'" Gilmore said prior to the dinner.
Killeen Mayor Maureen Jouett said Edwards' direction has helped push forward and fund several projects, such as the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport and the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
What struck her most about Edwards' leadership was his ability to communicate.
"He could make everybody feel like they were his friend," Jouett said.
Tommy Joe Mills, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army Emeritus, said before Edwards became a congressman, he knew only a handful of people in the area.
But because of his work, "friend" is the first word almost anyone who knows him now will use to describe him.
"It is remarkable what he's done for us these past 14 years," Mills said.
Edwards said his goal for the past 14 years has been to provide troops with adequate training and a good quality of life and to help build the infrastructure of Fort Hood.
"The Greater Fort Hood family is unique in its constant respect, appreciation and hard work on behalf of our military families," Edwards said.
Edwards said he and the communities he's worked with have shown respect for the military by providing housing, organizing federal Impact Aid for local schools and modernizing military training.
Edwards said the night was a greater reflection on the people who attended than on himself, and he was glad that so many of his supporters came to reminisce on the work they had done together.
Lyndon L. Olson, Jr., the former U.S. ambassador to Sweden, said Edwards is the best friend that Central Texas and especially Fort Hood have had in the U.S. Congress.
He assure the audience that Edwards would not forget his former constituents.
"It will take more a whole lot more than a wild stroke of a redistricting pen to keep Chet Edwards from protecting and advancing the needs of Fort Hood, people of this community and the United States Army," Olson said.
Contact Sarah Chacko at firstname.lastname@example.org