Local News

Springer Journal: Do You Know Where Your Soldiers Are?

Posted December 19, 2002 2:13 a.m. EST

— It's Christmas in America. Do you know where your soldiers are? Or, for that matter, do you know where the sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members are this holiday season?

This special time of year for Americans of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds centers around the three "F's": family, faith, and future. Many of us travel great distances to celebrate with those we love. We worship in our churches, mosques and synagogues. We look to the future with optimism and hope as we ring in a new year.

Many members of our armed forces cannot enjoy one of those "F's." These are the men and women in uniform who are deployed overseas ... many in remote regions of the earth ... who are defending America's ideals.

These members are unable to be with their families and loved ones. They can worship in makeshift chapels, tents or under the sky. They can look forward to a new year and the hopes of "peace on earth" and a return to their loved ones. But they cannot be with their family.

I know from personal experience what a heart-rendering experience this is for many. As a 32-year-old Air Force officer, I spent Christmas at Pleiku Air Base, Vietnam. My pregnant wife and three children were in America thousands of miles away. I should have been there with them on Christmas morning. I couldn't be. My country had other things for me to do.

Being separated from family and friends is always difficult. It is more so at special times like birthdays, anniversaries and holiday ... especially Christmas. Our military members know this very well. Only a small percentage has been spared the trauma of not being home for one special occasion or another.

Let's return to the basic question. Do you know where your soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard men and women are this holiday season? Well, obviously most are somewhere right here in America. But even these, because of their 24/7/365 duties, are still not able to be with family and friends back in their hometowns.

Many are serving overseas at the more traditional bases in Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Italy, Japan and Korea. Some of these are privileged to have their immediate family with them in these foreign locations.

Others are serving at some well known, but less traditional postings such as Bosnia and Afghanistan. Others are serving in countries many of us never heard of and certainly couldn't locate on a world map. Djibouti and Eritrea come to mind. Many are facing an enemy and are in harms way on a daily basis.

As I pen this article, we have American military members serving in over 150 countries around the world. We have airlifters flying into over 175 countries around the world throughout the year. Our military men and women are called on to make great sacrifices whether in peace or war. They are also called upon to represent America and American values wherever they serve.

This holiday season, just as it was last year, there are tens of thousands of reservists and national guard members who are also away from home. Today there are over 55,000 men and women serving in our reserve components who are on active duty and away from their families. Some are finding themselves away from home, families, and their civilian jobs for the second year in a row.

America relies on its guard and reserve forces like never before. They provide about 50 percent of our nation's military capability. There was a major draw down of active duty forces in the 1990s (about a 35 percent reduction). Yet there was a fourfold increase in deployments, mainly abroad, as we also drew down our permanently deployed forces overseas.

Then we experience Sept. 11, 2001 and an international war on terror. There simply is no choice but to demand more and more from our nation's citizen soldiers. And when we do so, we demand a lot from their families as well because of the frequent and longer separations.

We also demand a lot of patience and understanding from the employers of these reservists. Somebody else has to pick up the tasks that are left unfulfilled as a member dons the uniform. A couple of weeks out of the year, that's OK. But six, 12 or more months that is a significant issue for employers to cope with. Fortunately, most employers are very understanding of their employees' commitment to the nation.

For those of you fortunate enough to be with, to worship with, and to hope with your family and friends this holiday season, remember that somewhere in over 150 countries around the globe, there are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines or Coast Guard members who are not so fortunate. Be thankful we have these bright young men and women who volunteer to do these important, and often dangerous, missions abroad.

Remember also that your freedoms are due to their sacrifices. They would all appreciate your thoughts and prayers.