This past September, America marked twelve consecutive years of freedom from terrorist attacks on our shores. In those intervening years, we have enjoyed twelve Christmases with our families, twelve years of shopping, little league ballgames, commuting hassles, reality TV shows, Superbowls, politics and elections, PTA meetings and all of the myriad happenings that make up ordinary, everyday life in America. Other than some “minor inconveniences” of increased security measures here at home, it has been twelve years of business as usual for more than ninety nine and a half percent of the American people.
The past twelve years of peace at home are an amazing gift to America, a gift from the less than one half of 1% of Americans who wear the uniform of our armed forces and their family members, whose service and sacrifice have made these years possible. It is an amazing gift because these men and women have volunteered to serve as members of our all-volunteer armed forces with the full expectation that they would be sent into harm’s way. In the “Code of Conduct” for military personnel which they are bound to follow, they pledge in its first article that they are prepared to give their lives in defense of their country. In effect, they have given the nation a blank check, redeemable for their lives should that be necessary. Over six thousand of those checks have been paid in full in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to the tens of thousands of wounded who have helped to pay the visible price of this amazing gift.
In return for this gift, the nation rewards its service members with a package of pay and benefits (including the current G.I. Bill) that, while it can never adequately compensate for loss of life and limb, is arguably adequate to attract sufficient volunteers to maintain the force. The Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Labor all provide services intended to care for our veterans, and facilitate their transition from military to civilian life, including healthcare, education and reemployment. The unfortunate reality, however, is that, even if all of these services were operating at full capacity with 100% efficiency, they would be woefully inadequate to meet the complex needs of our service members and their families that have grown as a result of twelve years of war. Indeed, without the additional services provided by over 40,000 non-profits, the system would quickly collapse.
The good news is that the war in Iraq is essentially over, and the war in Afghanistan is rapidly winding down. That means we won’t have to worry about the troops anymore, right? WRONG! In truth, the needs of the troops and their family members can be expected to increase significantly in the months and years ahead. As our soldiers return home, long suppressed mental health issues are already emerging. Veteran unemployment, already at higher rates than civilians, may surge as tens of thousands of new veterans seek to reintegrate into their communities. Decreasing federal budgets will negatively impact the level of services that can be provided. And the smaller force levels that are now being implemented with implicit demands to “do more with less” will certainly place greater stresses on those who remain on active duty. All of this, of course, assumes that no new conflicts or deployment requirements are forthcoming. Now, more than ever, our troops need the support of all Americans!
One consequence of the all-volunteer force has been the emergence of a great divide, or gap, between civilian and military America. With less that one half of one percent serving, most Americans have no one in their family serving, nor do they even know anyone who is serving. As a result, they have little or no direct knowledge of the extent of the sacrifices being made by military families on their behalf, and the kinds of support they need. One bright spot: unlike the Vietnam war era, Americans do care about the troops and visibly display yellow ribbons on their cars to demonstrate their support. But more than moral support is required.
Christmas 2013 is now upon us, and the new year 2014 follows a week later. It is a time that Americans will be giving gifts and making resolutions. And it is the perfect time for Americans to begin to repay the gift of twelve years of terror-free Christmases given to us by our men and women in uniform and their families. It is the right time for us to give the gift of commitment to supporting our troops, veterans and military families, and to make a resolution to get involved in a meaningful support role.
One way to demonstrate a commitment to our troops is by signing the Code of Support for our troops, a set of six simple promises we can all make to them in return for their pledge in their Code of Conduct to put their lives on the line in our defense. Read and sign the Code of Support at www.codeofsupport.org.
For those not sure of how they can get involved, there are more than 99 Ways to Get Involved, with links to dozens of high-quality, well-vetted support organizations available at www.codeofsupport.org/get-involved.
Defending America and our freedom is not a responsibility that can be simply outsourced to less than one-half of one percent of the population. Every American has a stake in the outcome and a responsibility to do their share in whatever way is appropriate for them. This holiday season, let’s thank our troops, veterans and military families for their amazing gift to us, and, in return, give them the gift of commitment and involvement so they know they do not stand alone.
Alan B. Salisbury, MG, USA (Ret)
Chairman & CEO
Code of Support Foundation