High expectations accompany President Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. The hope is that the historic meeting between the two leaders will result in a nuclear-free North Korea. If the date of the summit is any indication, hope abounds. It was June 12, 1987, that President Ronald Reagan, speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, ignited a spark that not long thereafter led to the deconstruction of the Berlin Wall and later to the fall of the Soviet Empire.
Other similarities exist. Germany once was, and Korea still is, a state divided. After World War II officially ended, Germany became a key player in a decades-long Cold War. In Korea, a peace agreement still eludes the parties, replaced by an uneasy armistice which has kept the two sides dangerously close but free of major confrontation for 65 years. The common peacekeeper in each situation: the men and women of America’s military.
May is Military Appreciation Month, and in the days leading to Memorial Day, I hope every American will consider some of the ways in which our troops serve, sacrifice, and keep the peace that may not be as apparent as others.
When expressing appreciation for our troops, we naturally turn our attention to those who’ve fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Niger and other War on Terror theaters. We think, too, of those who served our country in previous generations to include World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. In October, we commemorate 25 years since heroic Army Rangers and Delta operators survived against overwhelming odds in a marathon fight on the streets of Mogadishu.
As residents of this great country, we live our lives free of foreign hostilities because a little over two million of our fellow Americans are providing for our “common defense” on active duty or in reserve components of the military. Of those, about 250,000 personnel are away from home, deployed to more than 150 other countries around the world with the greatest contingents in Japan, Germany, and South Korea where Cold War tensions continue to animate our defense posture.
Our troops overseas are engaged in combat and peacekeeping operations, training allied militaries, patrolling the seas, and providing humanitarian relief. Our Marines stand guard at nearly 180 embassies and consulates to safeguard our diplomats and the information they collect. The 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya proved how dangerous these assignments can be for our ambassadors in blue and required Congress to nearly double the number of Marine Embassy Guards in recent years.
Whether on patrols, performing exercises, or training, our service members face constant danger in the performance of their duties. Safety can never be taken for granted by the nation’s guardians, as evidenced by recent incidents. Two weeks ago, on what was to be its final flight, a C-130 cargo plane crashed on Highway 21 in Georgia killing nine Airmen with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. Last summer, a KC-130 transport plane carrying 15 Marines and a Navy corpsman crashed in Mississippi, taking their lives. Seven were special operators with the Marine Raider Battalion and were training prior to a scheduled deployment. A spokesman for the Special Operations Command called it a “dangerous and demanding calling,” and that is true in the air or at sea.
Last summer, the lives of 17 Sailors were lost at sea in two separate incidents, with dozens more left injured. The USS Fitzgerald crashed into a Philippine-flagged container ship, and while in the Straits of Singapore, the USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian oil tanker.
Here at home, members of the National Guard are frequently called upon in crisis. They’ve been activated in Hawaii to evacuate residents whose lives are threatened by volcanic eruptions, and they have been deployed to the southwest border of the continental U.S. to curb the flow of illegal crossings.
And when they’re not protecting and defending, they are honoring our deceased veterans and fallen heroes. The Old Guard stands watch at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The discipline and precision of this solemn ritual demonstrates the bond that service members hold for their country and each other. It’s found too in the work of the Marine Body Bearers and Army Mortuary Affairs who ensure a dignified laying to rest for our veterans.
As retail outlets ready the sales for the traditional Memorial Day “kickoff to summer,” let’s remember our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Guardsmen and Marines who give of themselves – in ways we rarely hear or see – and their families who serve and sacrifice with them.
Tom Kilgannon is the President of Freedom Alliance, an educational and charitable foundation which honors and supports America’s military.