A Time for Reflection and Thanks 

11/18/2009 12:00 AM 

                                                                                 December 18, 2009

          The holiday season is a good time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next.  In
Iraq the drawdown of our forces has begun, leaving a country profoundly changed over the past six years.  Our brave men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who fought in Iraq can clearly see that their sacrifices have not been in vain.

          At the same time, our forces in Afghanistan will increase next year to stabilize that nation militarily and politically and to help provide the security it needs to rebuild and return to economic self-sufficiency.  Many of the brave troops that brought peace to Iraq will be doing the same hard work in Afghanistan. 

          For the past eight years, land forces, especially the Army, have been doing the heavy lifting in these operations.  So, with the new deployments to Afghanistan, this holiday season will be a time of stress as well for Soldiers and their families.  I applaud our AUSA members and chapters who have reached out to them and expressed thanks on behalf of the association for all they are doing on our behalf.

          The stress on the force will not go away anytime soon.  At a town hall meeting with service members in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “Dwell time will not decline, but it will increase more slowly because of the surge in Afghanistan.”  He said he expects the high operating tempo to continue “for the foreseeable future.”

          That will make it tough for our Soldiers and their families, but the landscape of programs designed to help them cope with post-traumatic stress syndrome, combat stress and other deployment-related issues is unprecedented.  Just Google “programs to help soldiers”, and you will find almost 12 million links!  Secretary Gates has pressed to ensure that programs such as Comprehensive Soldier Fitness – the Army’s new effort to ensure that its Soldiers are strong mentally as well as physically – are properly funded. 

          Also, we have a new Secretary of the Army, John McHugh – a former congressman whose district included the heavily-deployed 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum - who is keenly aware of the sacrifices of troops and families as they fight the wars.  He, along with Chief of  Staff of the Army General George W. Casey Jr., have pledged to keep deployments to 12 months, to increase the time Soldiers are spending at home with their families and to terminate the stop-loss program.  They were able to make that pledge because the size of the Army has been increasing—an important element of AUSA’s legislative agenda.

          In their most recent message to Army leaders, the secretary and the chief wrote, “We share your concerns for our Army families.  We know our Soldiers, Families, Army civilians and veterans have carried an enormous burden in this war, and we are committed to providing a level of care and support that is commensurate with their service and sacrifice.  Our Army has never failed to answer the nation’s call.  As we have done over the last eight years, we will rise to this challenge.”

          AUSA will do all in its power to help the Army meet this challenge—from our work on Capitol Hill through our grassroots work being done every day by our chapter volunteers.

          This is a very tough time in the history of our Army.  There have been other difficult times…there will be more.  It comes into clearer perspective when you consider President Obama’s recent Nobel Prize address in Oslo.  He took the long view of what the United States has tried to accomplish in the years since World War II and the sacrifice it has entailed.  

          He said, in part, “The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.  We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will.  We have done so out of enlightened self-interest—because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.”

          Remember to keep our Soldiers, their families, and veterans in your thoughts and prayers, particularly during this Holiday Season.  What they have contributed and will contribute to our nation is invaluable.  We can never repay them.