"They fight in every corner of the globe... for you. They live to fight... for you, and they never rest because there is always another battle to be won in the defense of America." - Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly
In recent months, from the highest ranks of the U.S. Military, we've heard a growing concern that the American public is losing touch with our service men and women, veterans and their family members, and the critical sacrifices they make on our behalf.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently testified before Congress that there's a "growing disconnect between the American people and the military...the day-to-day connections are less than they used to be, the depth and breadth of who we are and what we're doing, isn't there." Similarly, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last year in a speech to students at Duke University, "for most Americans, the wars remain an abstraction."
Today, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in the military. Of that small community, Texas is home to roughly one out of every 10 current service members. Our state is also home to 15 major military installations and more than 1.7 million veterans. For these reasons, it's no wonder it's often said that "Texas defends America." While Texans have a special appreciation for our service members and our veterans, there is always more we can do to show our support, comfort the wounded, and care for those who have lost loved ones.
Just as Texas is home to millions of service members and veterans, it is also host to a variety of organizations devoted entirely to providing support for our military community. This past week, one organization in particular, Homes for Our Troops, began construction on four specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans in Texas. Volunteers will work over the next seven weeks building these homes, which come at no cost to the veterans receiving them, but instead are covered completely by donations from corporate sponsors, individuals, foundations, professionals from home construction and related industries, and thousands of volunteers.
In Killeen, Homes for Our Troops has partnered with Cameo Homes, Inc., to build a home for Sergeant First Class Charles Armstead and his family. Armstead was critically wounded during his third deployment to Iraq when an insurgent attacked his outpost and shot him in the stomach, shattering his hip and resulting in the loss of his right leg. In just one weekend, teams of volunteers managed to construct the wheelchair-friendly home, with wide hallways, doors and showers.
In El Paso, Veliz Construction will assist Homes for Our Troops in building two homes for wounded warriors and their families. The first recipient is Specialist Adrian Garcia, who lost both legs above the knees from a rocket-propelled grenade attack. The second recipient is Corporal Daniel Gasca, who is also a double amputee –wounded by an IED explosion in Iraq. Gasca currently lives in a small, 19th-floor apartment with his wife and two children.
Finally, in Boerne, a fourth home will be constructed with the assistance of Veritas Custom Homes for Staff Sergeant Nicholas McCoy. McCoy was wounded on patrol in Iraq by an IED explosion, which resulted in him losing both of his legs.
Since its inception in 2004, Homes for Our Troops has built nearly 100 homes in 33 states, including 12 here in Texas with the help of generous individuals, foundations, businesses and volunteers across the state. And, thankfully, Homes for Our Troops is just one of hundreds of organizations working in Texas to meet the needs of our military and veteran communities.
While Texans truly set an example for the rest of the nation on how we can best support our troops, veterans and their families, it is essential that we keep that enthusiasm alive—especially as our nation remains engaged on multiple fronts in the War on Terror.
As Lieutenant General Robert Kelly, recently nominated to serve as Secretary Gates' senior military aide, said in a poignant speech just days after losing his son in combat in Afghanistan, the responsibilities and burdens of war should not be shouldered alone by the "tiny fraction" who serve and their families at home.
"As a democracy — 'We the People' — and that by definition is every one of us, sent them away from home and hearth to fight our enemies," he said. "We are all responsible."
It is my hope that General Kelly's words will be a challenge for all of us to reflect every day on the freedoms we hold dear, give thanks for those who sacrificed to secure those freedoms, and commit to do more to support those who serve.
Note: Visit http://www.ourmilitary.mil/to find more information on ways to support our soldiers and their families and a list of organizations who depend on volunteers and donations to carry out this important effort.
Sources: "Lt. Gen. John Kelly, who lost son to war, says U.S. largely unaware of sacrifice" by Greg Jaffe, Washington Post; "Honor and Sacrifice," remarks by Lt. Gen. John Kelly; Homesforourtroops.org.