Citizen soldiers leave a legacy of merit, bravery

Legacy: Something handed down from a predecessor or from the past.

With Memorial Day on the horizon, it’s important to reflect upon the legacy left us by thousands of brave and selfless National Guard men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting our nation’s wars. The freedom all Americans enjoy is their most significant legacy, but their legacies have come in many forms and yielded so much more. 

We owe it to their memories to preserve and nurture their legacy.

Their service has bequeathed us an operational force of 460,000 citizen soldiers and airmen equally adept at fighting either an enemy overseas or a natural disaster at home. 

This legacy includes deploying individually more than 750,000 times overseas since 9/11. Despite the known dangers and increased operational tempo, every soldier and airman in today’s National Guard either enlisted or reenlisted since 9/11. More than 50 percent are seasoned combat veterans. 

They accomplished all while providing the nation untold value, especially important given the fiscally constrained times in which we live. Guard members are only paid when we’re in uniform.  Our soldiers and airmen retire later, costing less in pension entitlements. 

Even when mobilized, Guard members do not need expensive bases and services, and have reduced overall health costs. The National Guard also retains for our nation hard-won, expensive-to-acquire military skills and experience by recruiting into its ranks qualified volunteers leaving active service, more than 64,000 soldiers since 2010.  

The National Guard legacy has saved lives, protected property and helped restore normalcy after natural and man-made disasters. As hundreds ran to safety after the first Boston Marathon explosion, Guard members ran toward danger to help victims. In 2012 alone, Guard members answered the call more than 100 times to help neighbors recover from hurricanes, floods and wildfires. The National Guard has always been ready, always been there for our nation. That is yet another legacy, one that goes back to before our nation’s founding.

This Memorial Day, as you reflect on the legacy left to us by citizen soldiers and  airmen over almost four centuries, let’s pay tribute to those who have come before us by working hard to preserve the well-trained, ready and cost-effective force our nation and communities depend on to protect us at home and abroad.