A pair of old combat boots from the Korean War sit on display at the National Museum of American History. The half-century old boots are made of brown leather with a double strap and buckles. The toes are faded, dirt and wear etched into the leather. An army of eyelets run up and down the boots showing signs where the laces once cinched them tight. They bear the signs of years of hard work – difficult training, daily sacrifices, and combat. What experiences they must have seen as the person who wore these shoes stepped out onto foreign soil to defend the causes of freedom.
There is something powerful about seeing old shoes like these on display. Maybe it’s the journey motif. Maybe it’s the empathy it evokes (walk a mile in another man’s shoes, as the proverb goes). I think it’s because they hold a story. These shoes have been places. They’ve followed a path, been on a journey; the shoe is symbolic of the individual’s contribution to a larger purpose. Physical hardship, camaraderie, sacrifice, peace, bravery, loyalty and pain.
The path of our nation is tread by people who have worn many different shoes, but some stand out above the rest. Like the old combat boots at the National Museum of American History that once belonged to an American soldier, our military men and women put a lot of miles into their boots, from the rolling grassland of Gettysburg, to the beaches of Normandy, to the jungles of Vietnam, to the deserts of the Middle East. We are overcome with gratitude when we see shoes worn by those, for instance, behind the scenes like the Army Nurse Corps in World War II as they cared for wounded warriors. This weekend, we remember the attacks of September 11, 2001. We will see pictures of the gear the firefighters wore – the boots, the helmets, the jackets – as they stormed head-first into the towers.
These artifacts evoke powerful emotion. Why? Because they are reminders that freedom isn’t free. It comes at a high price.
Today our nation faces considerable national security challenges, from the brutality of ISIS, to Russia’s recklessness in Eastern Europe, to China’s continued military advancements. Historically, our military has been key in helping our nation tread a strong path. Now, more than ever, we need a strong defense to maintain the strong path heading into the future. Our military, while not perfect, has always had the determination and courage to answer the call to defend freedom throughout the world. But the question that keeps me up at night is whether our military has what it needs to do what we must do to protect and defend America.
Congress has a Constitutional directive to provide for the common defense. At the heart of today’s most critical debates is what is driving our defense decisions: short-term, haphazard policies, or a long-term investment in the security of our nation. I believe this is one of the most important discussions we can have. The commitment we make today towards our national defense impacts our own national security, as well as the security of our friends and allies, far into the future. The level of our commitment to building our national defense today will determine our level of preparedness for decades to come.
As Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, I’ve made it a top priority in Congress to defend our defenders and make our national defense a priority. I’ve pushed our leaders in Washington to make strategy-driven budget decisions that allow our military to adequately train and prepare, and that make it possible for services to plan for the future. I’ve supported legislation mandating a full audit of the Department of Defense to allow us to better ensure accountability and that the agency meets its core goal of protecting our national security. When we get rid of wasteful spending, we can prioritize spending towards what is most important for our warfighters. I’ve pushed our military services to continue investing in research and development to bring new innovation to our military technology, the same way innovative thinking brought us stealth technology, advanced satellites, and guided missiles.
Our national defense is a key gear in the machinery of America and it is worth fighting for. But ultimately, our national defense is dependent upon the men and women who choose to get up every morning, put on their boots, and fight to defend America. They have tread a path of freedom for the United States throughout history, and I won’t stop fighting for them.
Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.