They sacrificed Thanksgiving with their families. They left behind aging parents, nervous spouses, and growing children. They were not able to celebrate their kids' birthdays in person, cheer them on at football and soccer games, or see them perform in their schools' holiday concerts. They postponed a honeymoon, missed a family trip to see the Rockettes, and canceled a vacation to Central America. They missed out on hot showers, hugs from their loved ones, and a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed.
As chief medical officer, Captain Paul Reed wrote, they said goodbye to "the many little exceptional moments like cooking dinner while the kids are doing homework on the counter, picking out pumpkins for Halloween, or curling up on an early morning."
On Saturday, they came home.
They are officers serving in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. They went to Liberia to offer help, healing, and hope in a country deeply impacted by Ebola -- continuing the legacy of our Corps and our country. When our neighbors need us most, we open our hearts and extend our hand -- regardless of whether they live in places near or far.
The mission -- which continues, with the dedicated officers of a second team that takes their place and arrived in Liberia recently -- is to care for health care workers, so they, in turn, can care for the people in the region who have Ebola.
The officers who returned this Saturday have helped pave the way both for our own officers and for the rest of the world as they come to West Africa to be a part of this historic, humanitarian mission.
Like the many other men and women from the U.S. Government who are deployed to West Africa, including from the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Commissioned Corps presence is not only saving lives. The work these public servants do is opening minds. It's sending a message to aid workers from West Africa and around the globe that we are there to serve you so you can continue to serve others. It's an important part of moving beyond the fear and embracing the facts.
I want to share some words that Lt. Jason Kopera wrote to his commanding officers: "... overhearing a conversation with a Ghanaian army soldier while waiting at the heliport in Bong gave me a new perspective. Basically, he said everyone was watching and waiting to see what the U.S. would do, and that once we arrived it gave everyone a sense of renewed hope and allowed them to breathe a little easier knowing that everything was going to be okay. How often do you get the chance to have that type of global impact?"
I had the chance to welcome home Lt. Kopera and dozens of his fellow officers as they arrived back on U.S. soil this past Saturday. I am so grateful for their service and sacrifice. For giving up holidays, helping with kids' homework, and happy moments with loved ones so they could serve others, half a world away.