By Eric Cantor
Published by The Virginia-Pilot on July 4, 2010
In December, with Congress in the midst of the heated health care debate, I received an e-mail from 1st Lieutenant Wilson Nance, a Marine stationed at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
"I have no other reason to write you other than to give you encouragement in the coming months ahead," the 2006 VMI graduate wrote.
From the safety and security of the U.S. Capitol, grappling with Democrats over high-risk insurance pools and the public option, I received support and encouragement from a soldier in a war zone 6,000 miles away. It was an inspirational reminder that we must remain vigilant in our support of the courageous men and women who serve in our armed forces.
If anything, I should have been the one thanking and encouraging Lt. Nance, not the other way around.
As we go about our daily lives -- going to work and buying groceries -- it's easy to forget there are thousands of men and women fighting to defend our freedom and security every single day. It shouldn't be only on the Fourth of July, Veterans Day or during the occasional standing ovation at a ball game that we stop to honor their sacrifice.
We should be thinking about them, honoring them and praying for them every day. More than 830,000 veterans live in Virginia, and nearly 200,000 Virginians serve in the military around the world.
Just recently, with the uncertainty surrounding the dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, we were reminded how perilous the situation on the ground in Afghanistan continues to be. Our troops serving there are very much at the center of a protracted and dangerous fight for our national security.
Our nation is at a crossroads, both at home and with its commitments abroad. The America we grew up in is rapidly changing, and unless we change course now, our children and grandchildren will inherit a country worse off than it was left to us, with less freedom and opportunity. That freedom and opportunity is being fought for each and every day by the young men and women thousands of miles away, in foreign lands against enemies that couldn't possibly imagine what the honor of being an American and experiencing liberty means.
In supporting our troops, a great place to start is to follow the example of the good people in our communities leading the way to honor veterans and help troops and their families who currently serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Retired Marine Sgt. Nathan Huffman from Richmond organized a 100-mile Memorial Day Ultra Marathon in May, in honor of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country.
Retired Army Col. William Barrett founded Heroes Helping Heroes, a nonprofit organization that provides community-based programs to assist veterans in finding employment. There are dozens of programs like Heroes Helping Heroes looking for volunteers and support.
Started after the attacks of Sept. 11, Homes for Our Troops helps troops with serious disabilities find homes at no cost. Thanks to the program, Staff Sgt. Dwayne Cole, who was paralyzed in 2007 in Iraq when a bullet hit his spine, just received keys to a brand new home in Henrico. After spending six months at Walter Reed, he and his wife had been living in a rented apartment with inaccessible bathrooms.
While supporting programs like Heroes Helping Heroes and Homes for Our Troops are great opportunities to get involved, little things can also go a long way. The next time you see someone in uniform in the grocery store or in the airport, thank him or her for what they do for our country. If you have a friend, neighbor or relative serving overseas, send them a letter, email, or care package.
The courage and dedication of America's military is a constant inspiration for our nation. We must follow the lead of Sgt. Huffman, Col. Barrett and many others in supporting and honoring our troops every day.
Eric Cantor, a Republican from Richmond, serves as House minority whip.