This was a commemorative speech I gave at the college I attend. It was a last-minute request, as most speeches are. It may not mean much to those of you living in other nifty places.

This morning you awoke to a new day. There were chores to do, lists to check, and some moderate griping about some annoying item you had to deal with today. Meanwhile, someone you never knew stood watch on the hard steel deck of a ship, thinking about a distant little girl his wife gave birth to, but who hasn’t met her father yet.

You finish your morning routine, then head out to school. You fire up your car and check the gas gauge before heading down the smooth road to the college. During your travel, a man in a far-away land helps a woman cross a mortar-damaged street. She reminds him of his own mother, he thinks to himself, same hair and height. Until he sees her eyes; the look of fear changing the face of a once-beautiful woman to one who now appeared harried and lost and old before her time.

You arrive at the school early. You decide to stop in the cafeteria for a breakfast burrito and some coffee while you read the newspaper. You complain at the price, but still shell out the cash. While you pocket your change, a woman in dirty, grease-smeared clothes replaces a radio on a plane that monitors the skies for unknown aircraft.

You don’t give these people a second thought as your day progresses, but everything you do today can be attributed to their sacrifices. Without these people, you would most likely not be in school but in a field. Without these people, you would most likely never have an opportunity to own a car. Without these people, your church may have been burned down or converted into housing. These people are your friends, family and neighbors. They are US Veterans.

They have given up the conveniences that you take for granted. A warm bed has been replaced with a cold rack or a cot. The food comes from cans packed years ago, or comes aboard their ship marked Grade C (poor quality). Their world smells like diesel, the dirt almost merging into the flesh of their hands. Their loved ones are half a world away, out of reach for months at a time.

The reasons why they are deployed across the globe vary. Some folks grumble about those reasons, but always from the comfort of their sofas, or driving their luxury sport utility vehicles. The Veterans cannot grumble. They go where they are needed, and the decision why is left to the politicians and leaders.

Two hundred twenty-four years ago, men took up arms against oppression and tyranny. They fought for basic freedoms that most Americans today take for granted. Freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the Bill of Rights were written in the blood of those who raised their hand when the greater good of our country was at stake. You may say that today, the fight is different; it is about oil and politics. Whatever the leaders of our country decide, after being duly elected freely by you and your fellow Americans, has to be carried out by the volunteers who are on the front lines of the American ideal. The Veterans gave up their lives of comfort, postponed their dreams for their family, and placed themselves in harms way because it was what you and your proxies asked of them. If you disagree with the reasons why the Veterans are in one part of the world or what they are doing there, you should let your opinions be known, by voting or by speaking or by writing. Make sure you place your dissatisfaction where it belongs, not on the backs of those who serve your interests but on those who sent them there.

When the USS Cole was hit by a terrorist, more armchair Generals clamored to pull our military out of the Persian Gulf. Our military was stupid for being there in the first place, they angrily shout. After they were done complaining, they jumped in their gas-guzzling cars and went home to their warm house. Their words say one thing while their actions contradict those words.

When you see your flag flying in front of stores this Christmas, think of all of those who have given of themselves so that you would be able to buy a Starbucks Latte. Think of those little girls who will not run to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, but to their parent’s bedroom to see if Santa brought Daddy home. At the very least, give the men and women who are not with their loved ones this one solitary thought this holiday season: “Thank You”.

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