CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Joni Ernst wrote the names of two fellow soldiers killed in Afghanistan on stones that were part of a Veterans Day ceremony in Cedar Rapids Friday afternoon.

“I think we all could have used a boulder” to express gratitude and support for those who served in the United States military, she said. “I don’t know if we could ever say ‘thank you’ enough.”

Ernst, who is retired after 23 years in the Army Reserve and Iowa Army National Guard, told about two dozen people at the Murdoch-Linwood Legacy Center, about the emotional experiences that impact the lives of those who have served.

Although while in Kuwait and Iraq she didn’t experience some of the “more tragic things” as people on the front lines, “it certainly changed my life,” Ernst said at the ceremony conducted by House of Mercy Hospice. “No one who is away from their family will come back as the same person they deployed as.”

She also spoke of “survivors’ guilt” of those who served and came home safely.

“How is it that I made it home whole and these families have that emptiness?” Ernst said, adding “We get through it a day at a time.”

One thing that helps, she said is the “ruck marches” she participates in every couple of weeks in Washington.

Earlier Friday, Ernst and the Senate GOP released a video of her participating in the early morning gatherings of veterans, members of Congress, staffers and others.

“For 23 years, I served alongside the best of our nation, women and men who risked everything to preserve our great freedoms,” she said in the video.

The veterans march “to remember the sacrifices of all our veterans and to share in the unity and camaraderie that we have with one another.”

The marches, usually are 3.5 to 4 miles on the National Mall, but some are as long as 10 miles, also honor the “selfless service and sacrifice” of veterans and those currently serving, she said.

It’s up to the participants to decide what and how much to carry in their backpacks, but her self-imposed minimum is 35 pounds, Ernst said.