Until recently, the closest I ever got to a soldier in uniform was when the National Guard stood guard during a demonstration on my college campus during the Vietnam era. I don't remember the words on the sign I held, but I remember they seemed to bother the soldier across the rope, who glared at me. The divide between us was only a few feet -- but it represented an ideological chasm I knew I would never cross. Until I did.
Exactly one year ago, I stood behind another rope, holding another sign, looking into the eyes of another soldier. This time my eyes were filled with tears and so were his. The sign had his name on it, followed by the words "Welcome Home." The soldier was my son-in-law, home safe after 15 months in Iraq.
Since Vietnam, things are both different and the same. Many people are against the war and our military policy, but we've learned to separate the policy from the soldiers who carry it out. And I no longer view every soldier as a nameless part of a military monolith.
So I was a different person as I stood with my daughter last December, awaiting her husband and a planeload of soldiers returning to Fort Bliss in El Paso. Since my daughter joined the military community, she has opened my eyes to the military lifestyle, as foreign to me as another planet. I have gained some understanding of the choice to serve -- made by each individual soldier. And I've learned to respect and appreciate the sacrifices made by every person in a military family.
Surrounded by the families of soldiers, I thought back to all the other families who stood waiting for their soldiers, as far back in American history as the Revolutionary War. Being part of this group made me deeply grateful for the patriotism of these families, I felt honored and privileged to stand among their ranks as a witness to this homecoming.
My son in law is one of the lucky ones. He came home safe, into the waiting arms of his wife. Some had no one to meet them. Some came home missing limbs. Some never will come home.
That same scene is playing right now on military bases around the country. And I can't forget where I was at this same time last year. I can't forget the faces, so grateful to be back on American soil.
While Obama will hopefully work to bring all our troops home as soon as possible, meanwhile they're still over there. And more are headed back , including my son-in-law's brigade, scheduled to deploy again this spring.
While we on the homefront are in the midst of an ailing economy, post election euphoria and holiday season, the troops are thousands of miles away from all of that---and all of us. They need us to remember them long after the Christmas decorations come down. As they serve us, we can serve them:
Don't forget those who come home broken and battered.
Don't forget those who are stll there.