Randy Forbes: An open letter to those who served

randy forbesTen days ago, our nation lost a hero. Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed in a rocket attack by the Islamic State as he served with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines on a coalition base in Makhmur.

He was only twenty-seven years old. Just this week, two Americans were killed and a U.S. Air Force officer and several of his family members were injured in the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks on Brussels. When I heard of the news, I found myself reflecting once again on the incredible sacrifices all of our servicemen and women, and those who support them, make every day. One of my greatest privileges as I serve in Congress is being able to serve, meet, speak to, and hear from many who commit their lives’ work to the national security of our citizens. As I reflect on the many stories I’ve encountered over the years, I want to take a moment to speak directly and openly to a few of the individuals who have shared them with me.

To the service member who deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan: Your first child was born just days after the towers fell. You remember the emotions. You remember the fear.  What was this world that you brought children into? Seven years later, you waved goodbye to two toddlers and a grade-schooler.  It was your third deployment – another year away. You still remember the look in your wife’s eyes that day. She was trying her best to hide it, but she was tired, she was scared. But your country had asked again and you showed up again. You remained committed even when others doubt. You hear folks sneer when they talk about GI benefits or commissary privileges.

Here is what I say to you – The success of our nation depends on the character of men and women like you. I do not take for granted your work for our nation. I am privileged to have shaken hands with many like you. To support you is my priority. I refuse to place the burden of our fiscal challenges on the backs of our service members. Resourcing our men and women in uniform is not the cause of our fiscal woes, and cutting the benefits earned by our brave servicemembers is not the solution.

To the veteran who served in Korea or Vietnam:  You still keep the uniform you wore in the back of your closet. It smells of starch all these years later. Occasionally you pull it out, brush the dust from the plastic dry cleaning cover, and remember. You can still see the faces of the men left behind. A few years ago you visited the memorial in Washington.  As you pressed your palm against the cold stone, tears clouded your eyes. It could have been you. How different things seem today. Being a veteran often means fighting red tape and waiting in lines at the VA clinic. You know personally about the mounds of paperwork and backlogs at the VA. You know our nation can do better for its veterans.

Here is what I offer to you – We are thankful for you. Our nation called. And you were one who answered that call. Our veterans are remarkable for not seeking any special attention for what they have contributed to this country. Just as you have fought for America, I will fight for you: for uncompromised care, excellence in hospital care, and benefits without strings.

To the defense civilian: You know you are part of something important, but your stomach drops every time you hear rumors of furloughs or layoffs or government shutdowns. You know your family budget depends on Washington doing its job and the government functioning. Too often, you feel forgotten in the tug-of-war that goes on in Washington.

Here is what I say to you – you are a patriot who has dedicated your life to supporting our Armed Services. You might not wear a uniform, but you have no less devotion to excellence in your work for our nation and deserve all Americans’ respect and gratitude for what you do to support our warfighters. You deserve better than to be impacted by irresponsible cuts to our military or the uncertainty and dysfunction in Washington. Since voting against sequestration in 2011, I have repeatedly warned about its devastating effects. I will not stop fighting to support the heroes behind our heroes.

To the career soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine: You’ve made military service your life. As others climb the corporate ladder, you pack up your family every few years and watch as your daughter hugs her friends and cries when the moving truck pulls away.

Here at your new duty station, your spouse has been looking for a job. It’s been three months now. It always takes a little time, but this time you wonder if it will happen at all. You’ve always reminded yourself of the retirement benefits you have been promised – it’s one way you can give back to your family after all these years of sacrifice. But in recent years, you’ve heard talk of changes to the military retirement system. You worry whether that will affect your family, and that weighs heavily on you.

Here is what I say to you – your sacrifice, and your family’s sacrifice, is noticed. You made a promise to defend our nation, and our nation needs to keep the promises it made to you. I have fought for the compensation and benefits that our military families deserve and have earned, and will continue to do so. Our military men and women simply cannot and should not have to bear an unfair amount of our fiscal burden.

To the young student considering service in our volunteer military: Since the time you held your grandpa’s Purple Heart in your hands, it became your dream to join the military. You want to serve this nation. You know it will be hard work, but this is your calling. It’s your time to serve. Only lately, you’ve heard the military may have to cut thousands of troops. You wonder if they even need you now.

Here is what I offer to you – our country does need you. Now more than ever. Your service and commitment to our nation will make us better. There will be hurdles, failures, triumphs, and fears. But there will always be those who are grateful for you.

As we reflect on the sacrifices our service men and women make, I want to say thank you to all who commit their lives to our nation. You’ve fought and given your all for us. There are still those of us who are proud to fight for you.

Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.

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