One weekend a month, two weeks a year -- that old slogan would seem almost quaint if it weren't so outdated. This Veterans Day, as the United States winds down our involvement in Iraq and begins a handover in Afghanistan, the sacrifices of thousands of our guard and reserve families simply cannot be overstated.
By day they work as teachers, contractors, nurses and, yes, even politicians. But for so many of them the last decade has also involved fighting on the frontlines in deserts and mountains halfway around the world, often over multiple tours of duty. While our reserve men and women in uniform are taking the fight to the enemy abroad, their spouses are left to live, work and raise a family back here at home.
The facts are well known by now: more than 370,000 Guardsmen have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and more than 670 have made the ultimate sacrifice, according to the Defense Department.
When these guardsmen and reservists sign up, they write a blank check to our nation. They know that the cost of that check, their sacrifice, may include their own lives. But they do it anyway, because they know that to live in the freest, most prosperous nation on earth, there must be those that protect that freedom at all costs. The sacrifices our warfighters make for us is simply astonishing in modern American society.
Yet we are surrounded by their selfless service almost every day in communities across our great nation. This year alone the National Guard here in Missouri has responded forcefully to the deadliest tornado in recent memory in Joplin, flooding along both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and ice and snow storms that closed down an interstate. Throughout these duties the guard not only accomplished its mission, it did so with the dignity and precision that time after time calmed the nerves of restless communities.
Last Sunday I made a drive familiar to me from mid-Missouri, where I drill in the Army National Guard, to my home in Kansas City. This particular drive home was different, though, because it was my last. I signed up for military service in the months following 9/11 and later as a military intelligence officer I felt called, like so many others, to volunteer for deployment and service in Afghanistan. My experience in uniform has shaped my life and informed who I am like no other and it's difficult for me to wrap my mind around the idea that I will no longer be a soldier. But earlier this year, as my service obligation neared its end, my wife and I made the decision that I would step down from my position to hopefully start a family. I'm fortunate that my position on the Missouri Veterans Commission will allow me to continue to serve those who have served, but, of course, it won't be the same.
Many times over the last several years, someone has approached me at a gas station or in an airport when I've been in uniform and thanked me for my service. Frankly, I've never known exactly how to respond. I always felt a little awkward about it. To me, serving wasn't uncommon and my service paled in comparison to so many of my friends who had done so much more. In my world -- as a citizen soldier -- I was surrounded by other soldiers just doing their jobs. Now that I'm on the other side of my service, I instantly understand.
From the minutemen 200-plus years ago to the men and women posted in Kabul and Baghdad today, the heart and soul of our military is, and forever will be, the citizen soldier. Nobody exemplifies this better than the guardsmen and reservists that are currently protecting our country. On this very special Veterans Day, my personal gratitude and the gratitude of a grateful nation goes out to them and their families. May god watch over them as they watch out for us.