Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Lyon reunites with his wife and children during a homecoming celebration in Virginia Beach, Va., Dec. 18, 2012. Lyon, a member of Strike Fighter Squadron 83, returned to Naval Air Station Oceana after a six-month deployment to support Operation Enduring Freedom. (Photo: U.S. DoD)
While I said that “tens of thousands” of our troops in Afghanistan would be spending yet another Christmas away from their loved ones, the Christian Science Monitor is a little more accurate.
The Monitor tells us that 66,000 US troops are still in Afghanistan, but — if it is any consolation — that “Christmas 2012 marks the smallest deployment of combat troops abroad in at least five years, as the war in Iraq ends and US forces deployed to Afghanistan have been drawing down.” It is the lowest number of troops in Afghanistan since President Obama ordered a “surge” of about 35,000 troops in 2007, which took the total to over 100,000.
Still, such statistics did not help the 66,000 families who spent Christmas without a loved one or — referring to the First Couple’s Christmas message – they do not help “the 2.4 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and their families, who will continue to require services beyond holiday acknowledgments from the president.”
They also do not help those military communities where the “contributions” to the Afghanistan War are disproportionately higher than those of other communities.
Take for example the students at the Fort Campbell Kentucky High School, home to the 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles,” where thousands of their parents spent Christmas in Afghanistan, some for a second or a third time.
While such separations from a father or mother must be almost unbearable for a son or daughter, “It is nothing unusual for Alexandra Alfield, a 17-year-old senior whose father, a Special Forces soldier, has been gone since August and for six of the last nine years. ‘I do miss him,’ she said, ‘but I’m just so accustomed to it,’” according to the New York Times.
Such separations, and sacrifices, have made this Fort Campbell High School “something of a window into the pain, pride and resentment felt by the families of the all-volunteer military force, which has borne the burdens of 11 years of war,” says the Times.
The Times notes that even as Obama is considering how quickly to withdraw the remaining 66,000 American troops from Afghanistan, the parents of Fort Campbell students are still going off to war:
Nearly 10,000 men and women from the 101st Airborne, a third of the active-duty troops based here, are either in Afghanistan or getting ready to go. Still more parents here have been deployed with units like the Fifth Special Forces Group and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, whose members piloted the helicopters in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
This day after Christmas, after so many of us spent yet another lovely Christmas surrounded by family and friends, and as “the rest of the country’s interest in Afghanistan has moved on,” let us not forget that there are still so many homes and entire communities where Christmas will never be the same until all out troops are home.