For many, the holiday season is truly the most wonderful time of the year. It is a time for cross-generational gatherings, when families celebrate old traditions and create new ones. It is a time for sharing memories, and a time for giving to one another and caring for the less fortunate. And it is a time to count our blessings and reflect on our faith.
Few things weigh more heavily on me during Christmas season than the troops who are protecting our country overseas during the holidays. Recently, my children and I were privileged to be able to welcome home a flight of troops returning to the U.S. from Afghanistan as part of the SLANT 45 "Welcome Home Heroes" initiative. The Super Bowl 45 Committee in North Texas has sponsored kids’ charitable giving projects throughout the area – and greeting the troops was very inspiring. DFW airport welcomes service members coming in for their two week "rest and relaxation" every day of the year. Individuals or organizations wishing to show appreciation to our troops in this special way can find volunteer information at the following website: http://www.dfwairport.com/heroes/index.php.
It was both humbling and inspiring to meet with those brave men and women and to see them reunite with their families after months of separation. But so many others will not get to come home for the holidays. While we attend church services, enjoy family reunions, and partake in the bustle of the season in our own communities, there are nearly 150,000 troops serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq – apart from their families.
They are honorably carrying on a tradition of sacrificial service that was first heroically displayed by General George Washington and the American Continental Army at Valley Forge in 1777. Just before Christmas that year, Washington’s war-weary men settled in for a harsh winter with little food, tattered clothes, and insufficient shelter from the brutal elements. Many died from exposure and malnourishment, but the Army kept up its training regiments and ultimately survived the winter and continued to fight until they had secured our nation’s independence. Because of their sacrifice more than 230 years ago, you and I live in freedom. And the service of today’s military men and women ensures the preservation of our liberties now and into the future.
We must honor their service by keeping military personnel in our thoughts and prayers over the holidays, bolstering them with gratitude and encouragement, and supporting their families who are also sacrificing. On December 11, 2010, thousands of citizens laid wreaths at the graves of fallen soldiers at VA cemeteries across America. Nearly 24,000 wreaths were placed at Arlington National Cemetery outside the nation’s capital, and from Dallas to the Rio Grande Valley, volunteers in 33 cities throughout the state of Texas took part in "Wreaths Across America" to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
There are still opportunities for individuals and families to serve our troops and veterans and to honor the fallen this holiday season. Americans can send care packages and mail to deployed service members and post messages of gratitude and support. The Department of Defense outlines ways to get involved on their website at www.ourmilitary.mil/.
As we send support to our servicemen and women overseas, we must also look around our own communities and attend to the needs of those less fortunate. Many have been hit hard by the economic downturn and are struggling to make ends meet. Charitable organizations, like the Salvation Army, known for its iconic and impactful Red Kettle campaign, give all Americans the opportunity to contribute to important causes during the holidays. The proceeds from the Red Kettle campaign, which are typically collected outside neighborhood grocery stores and retailers, help provide gifts and meals for shut-ins in hospitals and nursing homes and hot, sit-down dinners at homeless shelters. Other charitable drives, like Toys for Tots sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps, use donations to give less fortunate children a memorable holiday through gifts of toys, books, and clothing. There are numerous opportunities for families to share this holiday season — whether through a trustworthy charitable organization, church offerings, or simple acts of generosity in one’s own neighborhood or community.
We can all look for ways to support our troops and to help those in need – not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year. I hope all Texans will have a joyous holiday and a blessed New Year. Merry Christmas from my family to yours.