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As thoughts for this time of the year turn to counting our blessings, may I suggest that chief among them is the willingness of our fellow Americans to defend our freedom generation after generation.
Since Pearl Harbor some 70 years ago, three generations of Americans have answered our nation’s call to duty in her defense. Today, we are in the 11th consecutive year of the Global War on Terror.
More than 6,000 American service members have been killed and more than 47,000 have suffered major physical wounds. And that number doesn’t include those suffering with the “invisible wounds” of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD or traumatic brain injury, TBI.
As the mission in Iraq ends and the drawdown in Afghanistan begins, what happens next?
First, assuming we aren’t pulled back into a similar deployment cycle due to an overseas crisis, now our military gets to take a “breather” of sorts. But this “respite” will continue to include global Navy deployments and the assignment of ground troops in South Korea, Germany and elsewhere.
Second, the return of the bulk of the deployed force, a source of great joy to their families, also represents a significant additional burden on the services and financial benefits promised to our nation’s warriors and their families.
It’s a simple math equation to know that any dramatic shrinkage of the defense budget will drive serious reductions in manpower and services to military families.
But we should not accept the idea that any budget shrinkage also somehow will minimize our core obligation to our nation’s warriors and their families.
The American military of the 21st century quietly has made history by serving longer in combat than almost any U.S. solider from any conflict. The deployment cycles have been so long and so frequent, that of the more than 2 million who have been deployed, thousands of them have served multiple combat tours in the Middle East.
It’s unprecedented — as is the widespread call-up of National Guard and Reserves to fight. The burden of reintegration into civilian lifestyle and employment falls especially heavily on these “citizen soldiers.”
To illustrate, USA Cares, a military-focused assistance nonprofit, has provided more than $8 million in non-repayment grants to thousands of post 9/11 military and their families since 2003. A typical week will see up to $20,000 in grants to military folks in times of financial need. More than half of this amount goes to support housing needs — foreclosure and eviction prevention. For the past three years, 70 percent of those needing housing help have been National Guard and Reserves.
Additional needs can cover a broad range, such as a family needing help with essentials like food or moving an entire family several states away when a veteran meets good fortune and finds a new job.
USA Cares helps post 9/11 military and veterans in all 50 states. For example, Kentucky personnel have received more than $800,000 in direct grants, while Texas has received more than $1 million.
I often am asked “What is the best way to express gratitude to the military?” There are several ways you can express your gratitude and support for all that our military – and their families – have sacrificed for us:
It’s been said that the measure of a great nation is how it treats those who fought and bled for it. So let it be said that in 2012, the people of the United States, in deep gratitude, answered their call to duty by supporting our heroes as they came home.
Bill Nelson is executive director of USA Cares, a national nonprofit assistance organization that aids the military. It is headquartered in Radcliff.