by Noel R. Boeke
Holland & Knight LLP
As we remain enmeshed in Remote Reality in the comfort of our homes in Florida, I think of our military forces who have been deployed around the globe for so many years – many of whom serve here at MacDill Air Force Base. The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is located in our backyard and provides command, control, and training for all U.S. Special Operations Forces. The most elite members of our armed forces – the Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Green Berets, Marine MARSOC, Air Force SERE personnel, and many others – end their military careers and become Tampa residents. Having been shot at by terrorists, their biggest fear now is what will they do for Act 2 after 25 years of military service. What can we do to honor their sacrifices so they can make a great life for their families in our community?
Abraham Lincoln certainly knew war’s high cost, and he predicted that “any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.” And while I served for 7 years in the Navy, I still struggle to consider myself a veteran. I struggle because of the hallowed images that come forth when I hear the word veteran – the dough boys of World War I, enduring cold, mud-filled trenches infested with rats, incessant artillery, and mustard gas. A short time later, the Greatest Generation fought from the shores of France and Italy, the deserts of North Africa, and the Pacific. Thousands never returned home. In Korea, service members fought bravely, often while outnumbered and under-equipped. And as I grew up, Vietnam Veterans faced a determined jungle enemy and the struggles of POW camps. The war was wildly unpopular, and yet they went to Vietnam anyway – demonstrating the essence of duty. For me, those previous generations exemplify what a veteran is, and it’s hard to accept the same label as those who previously walked such treacherous paths to ensure the many blessings we enjoy today.
Many more Americans have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflicts. And others are standing watch and at the ready right now. That dedication to duty marks our current professional military. Service members don’t serve to defend a person or an office. They swear allegiance to a document – to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. In taking their oath, service members promise to defend the ideals of our forefathers to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity….” Having such individuals willing to take on the obligation of military service is fundamental to our national defense.
Military families are also quietly heroic. They don’t deploy into danger, but they suffer greatly when the bill of freedom comes due. I feel for young children whose mothers or fathers have been gone so long they remember them only as a soldier in uniform. I grieve for the mothers, fathers, and spouses who have come to know the unimaginable pain of a loved one lost in service to our nation. And I can only imagine the bewildered, lost looks of children trying to understand that they will never see one of their parents again. But military families also inspire me by their resilience. After sacrificing so much they continue to serve other military families. They represent the backbone of our nation with the deepest understanding of the cost of freedom.
So, in a nation with so many heroes, from past generations to those serving in harm’s way right now as we enjoy winter in Florida, how can we best mark and appreciate their service? I find the simple words “thank you for your service” meaningful. Some might consider that statement to be trite, but then I think how much Vietnam Veterans would have appreciated a simple “thank you” when they came home. I am thankful to live in a time when so many appreciate our military. But I do think there is something much greater we can do to honor those previous generations of veterans who literally saved the world we live in today.
President Kennedy said that “as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” I believe that means not just living words of gratitude but living the ideals that created our nation. The United States is not great because of its military strength. On the contrary, we need our military because America is a special place created for liberty, freedom of expression, and freedom from oppression. So, while we need soldiers, sailors, airman, and marines, we need even more teachers, doctors, nurses, farmers, tradespeople, businesspeople, and countless other occupations – including more lawyers and judges.
There are countless opportunities available in this country given the blessings of personal freedom. If we maximize those opportunities, we can ensure our way of life thrives. We can continue to demonstrate to the world the value of personal liberty and freedom of expression. Our veterans, active-duty service members, and their families have sacrificed greatly to defend these ideals. The best way to demonstrate appreciation is to do our best to thrive in each of our chosen professions and to contribute to our communities. If every day we do our part to improve things and maximize the value of our freedom, then we will better honor our service members and veterans and make their sacrifices worthwhile.