Archive for Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Remember armed forces during holidays

December 24, 2008

As Christmas approaches this week, let’s remember all those whose duty calls them away from home on this most special day.

These would include something like 130,000 U.S. service members in Iraq and another 31,000 in Afghanistan.

Those are the ones who are most likely to be in harm’s way, although one thing about military service is that, in today’s world, there’s no such thing as a completely safe billet anymore. Any soldier, Marine, sailor or airman or woman serving in uniform anywhere in the world can potentially find himself or herself in Iraq or Afghanistan in just the time it takes to fly there in a jet aircraft.

Of course, in addition to those in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are something like 56,000 soldiers and 15,000 airmen and women stationed in Germany. Several thousand others round out the European command, with the bulk in England, Italy and Turkey.

The list goes on: Honduras, 350; Guantanamo, 1,600; Kosovo and Macedonia, 1,600; Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary, 1,550; the Sinai peninsula, 800; Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, 300; Kuwait, 49,100; the Philippines, 1,150; and South Korea, 28,500.

(These figures may be off. Exact numbers for U.S. deployments are a little hard to come by, or at least I wasn’t able to come up with anything definitive in an hour or so of searching on the Internet. Nevertheless, regardless of whether the compilations are correct, suffice it to say that we have considerable numbers – well into the tens and hundreds of thousands – wearing the U.S. uniform overseas.)

U.S. service members are assigned to every continent, although the numbers in Antarctica and Australia probably consist of researchers in the former and embassy guards in the latter. For that matter, a detachment of Marine guards is assigned to every U.S. embassy in every country in the world with which the United States has diplomatic relations.

Then, of course, there are foreign service personnel, missionaries and others whose responsibilities call them away. I guess many of them are compensated well for their sacrifices, but they are still serving in those capacities at some cost. That is to say, they don’t get to go home at the end of the day like the rest of us.

You can find people closer to home who at least won’t spend all their time with their families at Christmas. I’m thinking of police officers, emergency and hospital workers, transportation workers, even restaurant servers and convenience store clerks.

In my youth I, too, spent a few Christmases a long way from home. I wasn’t in any danger of being shot at, and in my case, the pain of separation was somewhat mollified by the existence of a support network of people and institutions who tried to keep our spirits up, but I was still cognizant of the fact that the people who meant the most to me were far away.

The military establishment knows how young soldiers and other members feel about being away from home, so they try to keep morale up with special holiday meals and other benefits that can be provided consistent with fulfilling the mission. Organizations like the USO also do their part.

Christmas can be a difficult time to be alone. So, as we gather around the Christmas tree Thursday morning, or as we sit down to dinner later in the day, let’s pause a moment to give a thought to all those who cannot be with us, or with their own families. It’s the least we can do.


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