Veterans, their families and community leaders gathered early Thursday morning for the 12th annual Oakdale-Lake Elmo Area Prayer Breakfast and Veterans Day Celebration in Oakdale.

Woodbury Mayor Anne Burt was among area representatives to give opening remarks. Burt recognized family members who served in the military and gave updates about the city.

The keynote speaker for the morning was Dr. Thomas Blee, a trauma and acute care surgeon at Regions Hospital in St. Paul and an associate professor of surgery at the University of Minnesota. Blee, who gave a disclaimer that he had just finished a 24-hour shift, spoke about his experiences treating traumatic injuries in the Twin Cities.

"I came to Regions Hospital six years ago from a small town Red Wing community practice, and it took about two weeks to be overwhelmed with what I was seeing there," he said, referencing in part the rash of St. Paul shootings this year.

Dr. Tom Blee gives the keynote address at the 12th annual Oakdale-Lake Elmo Area Prayer Breakfast and Veterans Day Celebration on Nov. 7, 2019. Blee spoke about his experiences as a trauma surgeon at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Hannah Black / RiverTown Multimedia
Dr. Tom Blee gives the keynote address at the 12th annual Oakdale-Lake Elmo Area Prayer Breakfast and Veterans Day Celebration on Nov. 7, 2019. Blee spoke about his experiences as a trauma surgeon at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Hannah Black / RiverTown Multimedia

Blee became emotional when he thanked the military for developing the practices he and other trauma surgeons use each day.

"Everyone in this room is, so to speak, healthier and safer because of the civilian trauma system, which is based on the military trauma system," he said. "Every conflict improves our care."

Other leaders to offer remarks included Maplewood Mayor MaryLee Abrahms, Oakdale Mayor Paul Reinke, Stillwater Deputy Mayor Mike Polehna and North St. Paul Mayor Terry Furlong. Washington County Commissioner Stan Karwoski and Woodbury YMCA Executive Director Heidi Bardwell also spoke.

Area faith leaders read scripture and led the room in prayer, with area American Legion and ROTC members serving as color guard for the ceremony. There were also performances by recording artist Gwen Budish and the Tartan and North High School choirs.