Since the beginning of the year, more than 9,000 service men and women have returned to Fort Hood from duty in Afghanistan.
Many engaged in armed conflict. Others treated the wounded or delivered critical supplies in war-torn areas.
But they all returned as combat veterans.
In earning this noteworthy distinction, they join with the thousands of military personnel who served during the nation’s nine-year involvement in Iraq, as well as those who saw duty during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
They share a heritage with the ranks of soldiers who deployed to Bosnia in the 1990s, fought in Vietnam during the 1960s and ’70s, and took up arms in Korea in the 1950s.
And they also stand shoulder to shoulder with the dwindling number of soldiers who fought for our nation during the difficult days of World War II — a conflict that changed the course of history.
These soldiers share a singular bond: they all went abroad on this nation’s behalf to defend its rights and freedoms.
In many cases, their service did not come without a price. Countless veterans bear the wounds and scars that all too often accompany a deployment to a combat zone. Others continue to suffer with the psychological effects of the ravages of war.
And far too many of our brave men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation. It is a debt we can never repay.
On this Veterans Day weekend, we pause to pay tribute to all those who have faced hostilities abroad, so that we might continue to enjoy the liberties our nation provides.
In a military community such as ours, we understand that overseas deployments of our soldiers is a fact of life. By way of illustration, more than 530,000 soldiers have departed and arrived through Robert Gray Army Airfield since 2003, according to information from III Corps.
But we must never take for granted the importance of our military members’ mission or the depth of their sacrifice.
And cognizant of the dangers they face, we should never fail to offer thanks every time a deployed service member returns safely to our community.
Finally, we must never stop praying for the families of those who do not.
Since the establishment of Camp Hood in 1942, we have been a community of veterans — and that’s the way it likely will always be.
We encounter our veterans daily — at the grocery store, in local restaurants, in our workplaces and in our churches. Some of these veterans still wear the uniform of our nation’s armed services, and they should be acknowledged for their continuing service to our nation.
But those who have left military service are no less deserving of our thanks, and on this national holiday, it is fitting that we recognize them as well.
The service of those who wear the uniform of our armed forces has played a major role in making our great nation a beacon of freedom and hope around the world.
Acknowledging this precept, it is fitting that we take time this weekend to honor their service.
It’s the very least a grateful nation can do.