America to Military: Thank You for Your Sacrifice
To the Men and Women of the United States Military:
It's the July 4th weekend. Many of you are far from home in unpleasant places like Iraq and Afghanistan or off the coast of a hostile nation such as Libya. You are fighting at least three wars, and though bureaucrats don't call it the war on terror anymore, you still fight that as well. Every day poses a risk, whether on the streets of Baghdad or on duty in Fort Hood, Texas.
At home, your loved ones are grilling, having a beer or playing Frisbee. Our tables are filled with plenty - not just today, but all days. Yes, many Americans struggle even in a good economy, but that fight is nothing like it is in the third world. This nation is still the land of opportunity because you help make it so.
Meanwhile, you eat, sleep, walk and talk Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. You work long hours, ever alert for the one time something bad might happen. You eat what is available - whether it's good chow or MREs (un-affectionately known as Meals Refusing to Exit.) Many of you have discovered what life is like on the beach - without the ocean to cool off. Sand is in your shoes, your clothes and even your food.
Yet you are there. You volunteered to be there. Every second you are there, you are doing your part to guard your family, your friends and your nation.
Still that nation and its military are increasingly separated. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the 2011 West Point graduating class that civilians and military were growing apart. "I fear they do not know us," he told them.
He was right. Those who serve and those who stay in civilian life often come from two separate worlds in this era of a volunteer military. And there is little that bridges the gap. Our media only cover the wars when it is convenient or it makes their side look good. Hollywood is worse, rarely repeating the patriotic films that once filled movie screens coast to coast. The military is not mocked as it was in the Vietnam era. It is too often simply ignored.
These thoughts are very important to me this holiday. I had the honor of visiting the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) late last year as the newly operational carrier was getting shipshape. As I write this, the Bush and her crew are heading into their scheduled deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet.
Heading into harm's way as so many have done before. But this time, they are people I know, men and women who I talked to, ate with and whose struggles now seem all too personal.
These incredible men and women average a mere 19 years of age. Yet they command the most powerful weapon in the U.S. arsenal - a nuclear-powered carrier. And that weapon now goes to war. Even on the most powerful ship in the Navy, some may not come back.
So, to those who serve on the Bush or in other parts of our armed forces, I have only two things to say. First, you are not forgotten, not on this or any day.
We remember you each time a man or woman in uniform passes us on the street. We remember you every time we sit at a table with an empty chair and a friend or a coworker or loved one is in some far away land in uniform. We remember you every time we see the flag fly high over a capitol or stadium or when we sing the "Star Spangled Banner." We remember you when we pray to God to keep each and every one of you safe. And we remember you when the world turns more terrifying and men and women go once more into combat, to protect us and the nation we hold dear.
And yes, we remember you when you come home. We greet you with open arms as you step off the plane or honor the fallen with funeral processions worthy of their sacrifice.
More than just remembering, we give thanks. We pay tribute to those who don't just fight to protect us, but to those who give their last full measure of devotion and die fighting for us.
There are no words to say for something like that. How do you say thank you to a mother who just lost her oldest son in the mountains of Afghanistan? How do you tell a father how much you appreciate his daughter's sacrifice, knowing full well this man will never have grandchildren to bounce on his knee? How do you show gratitude to a young husband or wife who will never hold their lost love ever again? How do you thank a child whose mommy or daddy will never comfort them or see them walk down the aisle?
There are no words in any language that could express those feelings. But we need to start trying. America has been fighting a war in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years and eight years in Iraq. Ten years is too long not to say how grateful we are for all you do. It's time we start.
Dan Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.