By Michael Schindler
In honor of Memorial Day, Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has penned the column below.
This September marks the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 unsuspecting citizens in Manhattan, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. This attack on our homeland sharpened our collective world view and thrust our society into a new phase, a Post-9/11 America.
After that day, thousands of young men and women from all walks of life were inspired to join the Armed Forces and dedicate themselves to protecting our way of life and preserving the exceptional freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
In the decade that has followed, those men and women were trained and deployed across the globe to places like Afghanistan, Africa, and Iraq, many of them numerous times. More than 6,000 men and women have given their lives in service to their country and left wives, husbands, sons, daughters and parents to mourn for what might have come of lives cut short far too soon.
This Memorial Day, we reflect on the sacrifices of the latest generation of noble Americans who have died in recent conflicts and operations across the globe, and we remember the example set by our World War Two and Korean War veterans, the first Greatest Generation, and their sons and daughters who fought in Southeast Asia. Those who perished in Europe, in the Pacific, and in Vietnam did so with the strong belief that they had a duty to prevent the march of fascism and spread of communism. Their sacrifices made possible the advance of free nations in the modern, interconnected world we often take for granted today.
The threats we face now are borne out of radical and suicidal ideologies that are more insidious and disparate than conventional battalions of infantry and squadrons of planes. Our enemies not only seek to harm us through terror and violence, but they also seek to destabilize states and communities by intimidation, disruptive technology, and sowing doubt and fear among our allies.
Those who have returned from war are forever changed by their experience. Some of them are missing limbs, while others return without a true sense of belonging in their communities. For the ones who have made it back after devastating wounds, the anguish they have experienced is not only life-altering for them, it deeply affects their families. Their courage is inspiring, yet we don’t often hear of those who become lost along the way to recovery. Tragically, some of them, seemingly well adjusted, are contending with doubts and fears and eventually taking their own lives.
Memorial Day is an important reminder that much remains to be done on behalf of the most vulnerable warriors who need more than our passing sentiments and our good intentions. We must remind ourselves that their survival and success is not assured, and their toughest days of rehabilitation and re-integration often lie ahead.
As they work to rebuild their spirits and strengthen their minds and bodies, we must ensure that our local communities, volunteer organizations, churches, state governments, and the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs are able to work together more closely to help these warriors make the often difficult transition from active duty back to civilian life.
Our solemn duty as a nation on this Memorial Day is to honor those who have died in military service to America, and our mission for the days ahead is to keep their brothers and sisters from losing their way in lives still left to live.
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.