One of the things I enjoy most about what I do is the chance to meet with the military family. I refer to it as a single entity because this is how we should think about it — one family of our nation’s active duty, Guard and Reserve, the families who stand and serve with them, retirees and veterans of every generation, wounded warriors, and loved ones of our fallen.
Everywhere I go, at every stop, I am inspired by this family and what they achieve. In a very real way, they have taken care of America. They have fought harder over the last decade than many will ever know.
Each member of our military family has endured his or her own measure of sacrifice. Many have known only war and the complexity of emotions it brings — courage and fear, confidence and uncertainty, all at the same time.
Every day they have overcome stress from continued separations. Every day they have battled hardships — none more so than the children who have been apart from their dads or moms, or in some cases, both.
Dealing with these challenges for months and years on end demands resilience and toughness. These qualities are quintessential to the military family. They are qualities most are proud of and try to pass on.
I recently spoke at a military spouses’ luncheon. One Army wife was particularly energized. “I am so excited about our young military coming up,” she said. We went on to discuss opportunities for building resiliency, early and everywhere in the Joint Forces.
As tough as the military family is and as much as we focus on resiliency, at the end of the day, families wish nothing more than to be whole again. For some, the chance to be whole will never come again.
We owe nothing less than to keep faith with them, and probably a whole lot more.
This is centrally important because beyond resilience and toughness, one of the things that holds us together as a military family is a sense of trust and confidence in one another. That trust flows through, is magnified, and is made far more powerful as it extends into the American public. And I believe it is this bond of trust that will ultimately get us through any tough transitions ahead.
There are indeed challenging times ahead. We have more years of effort in Afghanistan. Around the world, we face evolving threats. Yet, even if the conflicts we’re engaged in ended today, the last U.S. veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, passed away just last February. I mention this to emphasize that our commitment to the military family must extend well beyond our current conflicts.
I worry that it will get harder to preserve the bond of trust as time marches on and attention is drawn elsewhere. I worry that the American public, who used to have day-to-day connections with the military, may not know as well as they once did. This trend could continue as fewer wear the uniform. Some may be simply unaware of the challenges that will endure long after the wars end because most in the military family tend to bear their burdens quietly.
Preserving the bonds of trust is something we’re all going to have to work at, something we’re all going to have to keep delivering.
It’s clear to me that people care and want to help. It’s fundamental to who we are as Americans, that when challenged, we come together and back each other up. I think that often people just don’t know what to do to support the military family in the ways they need most, particularly as they are transitioning back to their communities and into civilian life.
There are national and local community efforts across America to help us move in the right direction and many ways, big and small, to get involved. All over this country in all sorts of ways, citizens are rolling up their sleeves to do good things for the men and women who serve.
These efforts are important. They keep us talking to each other. They offer two-way avenues for appreciation and action. Mutually beneficial, these things can only strengthen the trust between America and her military. I also believe they can only strengthen our nation.
On Memorial Day, citizens around the country will pause to recognize and honor the military family for its special contributions to our nation. We will remember those killed during our nation’s wars, and we will stand beside those who bear the quiet burden of those still absent.
Let us also use this Memorial Day to commit, to unite, to send a message to the entire military family: We thank you for your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice and you can trust that we will always be there for you.
Dempsey is the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.