Actor Honored for Exceptional Public Service

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2008 - A jack of many trades and master of the deadpan delivery, Ben Stein yesterday added one more title to a list that already includes actor, economist, educator and writer: that of exceptional public servant.

For his contributions to the men and women of the armed forces, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England presented Stein with the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Exceptional Public Service Award during a ceremony at the Pentagon.

The award also was presented to Bonnie Carroll, chairman and founder of TAPS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. TAPS is a national organization for all those who have lost a loved one serving in the military.

"We don't have too many opportunities in the building to really recognize great Americans who are hugely supportive of this building and our military," England said. "You both have been absolute yeomen in supporting the [military], and this is our day to say, 'Thank you for your great work on behalf of our military members and their families.'"

Stein, perhaps best known for his role as the monotone economics teacher in the hit movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," has written books and screenplays, studied law and shed light on injustices in American society. He's also no stranger to Washington and politics, having served as a speechwriter for presidents Nixon and Ford, though he makes it clear in his biography that he did not write the line, "I am not a crook."

He's also a fervent supporter of the military, and despite his iconic status, his comments often belie the humility he feels for individuals who wear the uniform and their families.

"My work is incredibly trivial and unimportant compared with their work," Stein said. "My whole 63 years, [what I've done is] not as important as what a man or a woman going out on patrol in Basra or Ar Ramadi or An Nasiriyah does in five minutes, maybe five seconds."

One of his latest public acts of gratitude to the military is the book "The Real Stars." It's an answer to a question Stein, who has a home in Malibu, Calif., hears frequently regarding living among the real stars. His verbal answer to askers is that he doesn't live among the real stars, but highly paid entertainers.

Stein admitted receiving the award was an honor, but he continued to deflect the gratitude back at the servicemembers and their families.

"[What I do for the military,] it's nothing compared to what the military does for me," he said. "People whine and moan about their taxes. People whine and moan about jury duty -- I must say I try my best to get out of it -- but the people who give their lives and the families left behind,what could we possibly do to recognize them adequately?

"There's nothing we can do to recognize them adequately," Stein said, answering his own question. "There is no adequate way that we can thank [the military], and we are just at your feet and in deep, deep, deep gratitude."

While nothing may serve as an adequate thank you to the servicemembers who make the ultimate sacrifice, Stein, who serves as a TAPS honorary board member, said the organization works hard to take care of the families left behind. The group's founder, Carroll, agrees.

"Families who have lost a loved one serving in the armed forces have made a tremendous sacrifice," she said. "Through TAPS, we've come together to help each other heal, to remember the life and the love that we've lost.

"Our loved ones died, but they [also] lived, and they made an incredible contribution," Carroll added. "They served with pride, and we are proud of them today."

She knows that all too well. Her husband, Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, was killed in 1992 when his military plane crashed. Seven other soldiers lost their lives in that crash.

The ceremony at the Pentagon concluded just hours before Carroll and her TAPS organization honored Stein at the inaugural TAPS Honor Guard Gala in Washington. On behalf of TAPS, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen presented the TAPS Honor Guard Award to Stein for his support of the organization and its families.

TAPS is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.

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