It now is a given that there will be U.S. veterans of the Syrian civil war.
President Barack Obama announced recently that 50 Special Operations troops will be deployed to Syria to serve in an advisory capacity with local militias or rebels friendly to the United States. The chief goal will be to assist groups fighting the terrorist group Islamic State.
While that is a small contingent of U.S. soldiers, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter hinted Sunday that the number of “advisers” could grow. That might have ominous overtones to those who recall that the decade-long U.S. involvement in Vietnam similarly began with just a few advisers on the ground.
Perhaps, though, this is emblematic of how U.S. troops now will routinely deployed around the world. Instead of massing tens of thousands of troops for an invasion force, presidents will send a contingent of special ops to trouble spots in hopes of tamping out small fires before they become full-blown infernos.
But whatever the new role for America’s enlisted men and women might be, one thing will never change: They still are the point of the spear protecting the rest of us from those who would do us harm, attack our allies or challenge our national interests across the globe.
Those are the people we honor today on Veterans Day, all those who served throughout our history and those now serving. In particular, we need to personally thank those who answered the call in World War II while we still can.
Of the more than 16 million Americans who served in World War II, fewer than 1.7 million are still alive. And they are dying at a rate of more than 600 a day.
On this Veterans Day, let us give special thanks to those remaining members of the “Greatest Generation,” many of whom were just boys when they signed up but nonetheless participants in one of the greatest conflagrations the world has ever witnessed.
But our gratitude to the veterans of World War II should not overshadow that for the veterans of other wars. So, let us honor those who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars whose ranks also are thinning.
America is not currently involved in what might be called a conventional war. But that definition can be deceptive.
As noted, U.S. troops soon will be in the line of fire in Syria. Americans still are stationed in Iraq, where we have fought two wars, and Afghanistan, site of what now ranks as America’s longest war.
And troops find themselves in harm’s way in any number of other spots, including those stationed in the U.S.. Just last month hundreds of National Guard troops were sent to save lives and help out victims of the historic flooding through much of South Carolina.
And our veterans face challenges not only on the battlefield but also on the home front. We have witnessed the inadequacy of health care for veterans and fixing that system is a dire necessity. That is one more tangible way we can honor our veterans for their sacrifice.
Despite the changing political winds throughout the decades in which these many conflicts have occurred, the American military remains a constant, unwavering force, whose members are there to do their duty when the nation calls. Without them, we could not have sustained the way of life we hold dear.
One day is not enough to repay the debt we owe them.