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BOLIVIA — Former Marine and House of Representatives candidate Ilario Pantano was named assistant secretary of North Carolina Veterans Affairs at the Brunswick County Courthouse on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
While it was not an official ceremony where Pantano would be sworn in, Judge Marion Warren charged Pantano with the position as assistant secretary, which Pantano accepted.
“It’s an honor to serve the 800,000 veterans living here in North Carolina. It’s an honor to serve their 1.5 million family members,” Pantano said.
“They asked me in my interview to name the biggest fear of veterans. I told them it was not backlogs, claims or injuries. It’s the fear of being forgotten,” he said. “I’m here to tell you, I will never forget our veterans. I’m one of them, and I will never forget.”
Pantano joined the Marine Corps at 17, fought in the first Gulf War and led a scout and sniper team in support of U.N. peacekeeping operations. After completing his enlistment, he returned to the private sector to earn a business degree and work in business and media in New York City. Upon witnessing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, he rejoined the Marine Corps as an infantry officer and led a platoon in the first battle of Fallujah in 2004.
“I’ve buried men both in combat and who’ve taken their own lives. So, I know that the pains of war are very real,” Pantano said. “We have a whole generation of young people that is contemplating, ‘Will I volunteer to be in the military?’ And they are watching what we as a society do and how we put our arms around these veterans.
“I take my responsibility very seriously … I tell my kids often, the tragedies are terrible, the damages to the psyche are terrible,” he said. “But the only thing more terrible is not believing in something to fight for. This country is worth fighting for.”
Pantano chose Brunswick County to host the ceremony because he has personal ties to the people of the area, especially many veterans.
“This place is one very dear to my heart,” he said. “I have many close friends who are veterans. Many of those friends live here in Brunswick County.”
Pantano began working as assistant secretary of North Carolina Veterans Affairs in early September and has created an initiative to make North Carolina the most veteran-friendly state in the country.
He said one of his main goals is to make veterans in North Carolina aware of opportunities available for them.
“Many of our veterans don’t know what’s out there for them,” Pantano said. “We want to make a conscious effort to educate our veterans and make every resource available to them. We want them to know we’re making every effort to take care of them.”
Pantano said he is working with Gov. Pat McCrory to re-evaluate policy, legislation and workforce enrichment, including jobs, education and health care for North Carolina's veterans.
“I wake up in the morning thinking about ways to make life better for veterans, and it’s the last thing I think about before I go to bed,” Pantano said.
“There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about what the men and women in this country have fought and bled for. These veterans are not victims. They are victors.”
After finishing his commission with the Marines, Pantano and his family settled in Wilmington where he has written two books, produced films and raised money for veterans’ charities.
Pantano won the U.S. House of Representatives 7th District Republican primary election before falling to Mike McIntyre in 2010. He challenged McIntyre again in 2012 but lost the primary election to David Rouzer.
Pantano came to national attention in 2004 when he was accused of premeditated murder in the killing of two Iraqi captives during a unit mission near Fallujah on April 15, 2004. A general found no credible evidence or testimony for the accusation and declined to prosecute Pantano, dropping all charges. Claiming terrorist threats against his family, Pantano resigned his officer’s commission and was honorably discharged.
Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.