Are we entering a year of unthankfulness? Will this be a time of ingratitude?
That’s a strange thought for this time of year.
Usually this is the time of year our country profoundly loves our folks in uniform. We get teary during football games over holiday greetings they send to their moms in Beeville, Texas or Drakesville, Iowa.
This coming year, I’m afraid, things will be different. This coming year I worry that no matter how many commercials are aired or how many ‘thank our troops’ banners appear on ketchup and chips and yogurt, that the troops won’t actually feel terribly appreciated.
This coming year I think our ‘appreciation’ might sit on their bellies like so much frozen turkey. Hard. Cold. Undigestable.
Because this is going to be a hard year -- the first of several hard years to come. These are the years of sequestration and troop reductions and the formation of plans to cut, cut, cut the military and all its many benefits. And even though Congress recently passed a bill to limit sequestration, it included those cut-cut-cuts to the future military retirement of currently serving members, something lawmakers had previously promised was safe.
While our servicemembers might be able to recognize that hard years come at the end of every major military engagement, I wonder how are they going to feel when their job is eliminated. What happens when their year group is cut?
Are they starting their new year feeling like military service was a waste of time? That it had no meaning? That it did not matter?
I don’t want that for any of our troops. I have shared every holiday dinner of my life with servicemembers. Every year I am grateful for them.
But do they know I’m grateful that they are? I am like so many who have looked at the American servicemember and wondered where people like this come from?
Where do you get 18-year-olds who are so certain that they can do a hard job that they sign up for four years of it? Surely they have seen Full Metal Jacket. They have seen Saving Private Ryan and still they walk into a recruiter’s office thinking, I can do that.
Where do you get people who deploy for nine months come home for nine months and start work ups to deploy again without quitting?
Where do you get people who keep running even when they have run so far and so long that their shins and knees and hips will never quite stop aching?
Where do you get people who develop such an interest in a ship or a plane or a boat or a helicopter that they want to be around it all the time no matter what it smells like or sounds like or how profoundly ugly it is?
Where do you get people who are deployed from their families over the holidays and fold that away as “part of the job” or “just another day?”
Where do you get people who know firsthand what it is like to lose their brother in arms and still pick up a weapon to go out and fight again the next day? The next month? The next year? The whole decade?
Where do you get people who are willing to risk and lose their own lives? Where do people like that come from?
I don’t think they are made. I think they are born among us. I think there are a limited number of them.
No matter how hard these next hard years will be, we can’t afford to lose sight of how limited our commodity of servicemembers truly is. How valuable their work is in the world. How much we need from them.
We can’t afford a time of unthankfulness or a period of ingratitude -- at this or any other time of year.
So let me be one of millions who thank you again, servicemembers. Because we really mean it.