Today is Veterans Day, a day designed to celebrate our nation’s armed forces, their commitment, and their ultimate sacrifices. Though this day comes only once each year, the special individuals to whom it is dedicated deserve our thanks every day. The last year has been a tumultuous one for the entire world and the men and women of the American military have been engaged in various theaters of operations beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. At home and abroad, US military forces continue to provide proof of General Douglas MacArthur’s statement that, “Americans never quit.”
Our military responded to a series of natural disasters this year. In March, through Operation Tomodachi (Japanese for “friendship”) the Marines, Navy, and Air Force offered humanitarian and disaster relief assistance to the Japanese people affected by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 and left millions more homeless. Marine helicopter units delivered thousands of pounds of rice, bread, and other food items to the hardest hit areas. In addition, a significant number of American naval ships responded including the USS McCampbell, the USS Curtis, the USS Mustin, and the USS Ronald Reagan.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) moved into action when a series of severe storms this past Spring plagued the nation’s mid-section. Tornadoes, floods, and other significant weather events left thousands in a desperate state. The USACE worked diligently to ensure the safety of structures following those storms and to assist in meeting the basic needs of those impacted by the devastation.
In the wake of devastating Hurricane Irene which pummeled the East Coast in late August, National Guard and Coast Guard forces were deployed to the hardest hit areas on the East Coast within hours of the storm making landfall. Select Army personnel were also involved in relief and rescue efforts. The nation applauded the responsiveness of the military and FEMA personnel after Irene, commending the organizational structure for making necessary changes from lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina. America’s men and women in uniform also provided assistance to “man-made” events, many that bolstered the cause of freedom and liberty around the world.
In March when the United Nations intervened to uphold a “no-fly zone” in Libya following Muammar Gaddafi’s crack down on anti-government rebels, the United States military was on hand to provide assistance. US ships (in conjunction with British vessels) fired more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles at key Libyan air and ground defense systems. With the assistance of American and other coalition forces, the people of Libya were ultimately successful in overthrowing the long-seated military dictator last month.
In May, American troops fulfilled a promise made to the American people on September 11, 2001 by capturing and killing notorious terrorist Osama bin Laden. After months of gathering intelligence, US Special Forces infiltrated bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The terrorist was ultimately killed in the ensuing firefight though no US service members were lost. In the aftermath of one of the most significant military operations in American history, President Obama applauded the diligence and commitment of the American armed forces. In his nine minute address to the American people, President Obama told the nation that, “justice has been done.”
In the midst of these noble efforts and heroic accomplishments, however, the military suffered tremendous losses this past year. August 6th marked the deadliest day for American forces in Afghanistan since that war began more than a decade ago. On that day alone, thirty American troops, mostly elite Navy SEALs (some reported to have been part of the bin Laden mission), were killed when insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter in which they were flying to aid a team of Army Rangers. The entire month of August saw the loss of 66 US service members, making it the deadliest month for US troops since the war began.
In total, 6,314 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. 438 of those troops were killed this year and, tragically, a number of whom were AMU students. When I learn of the death of one of our students, it brings into perspective the unsung heroism of our nation’s military men and women and the veterans who served before them. To everyone serving our country or who has served our country in the past, thank you for all that you do and have done to preserve the freedoms that we enjoy at home and abroad. We salute your dedication, commitment, and sacrifices.