By Senator Mitch McConnell
America has entered its tenth year of fighting in Afghanistan, and we can never express our gratitude enough to the heroic men and women of our armed forces who continue the battle there. Many of them--nearly one-fifth of all U.S. forces in that country--are from units based in Kentucky: Fort Campbell, Fort Knox, the Kentucky National Guard, the Marine Corps and the Reserves.
I recently led a Congressional delegation on a visit to the region and spent some time in Afghanistan to see up close the progress our forces are making there in clearing out the Taliban and creating the opportunity for Afghan security forces to assume greater responsibility. During my visit, I had the honor of meeting many of the servicemembers from Kentucky. I told them that we're proud of them, we support them, we thank them for their service and we pray for their safe return.
Forces in Afghanistan from Kentucky units number more than 18,000 strong. They've seen much military success--but in the process, many have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The 101st Airborne Division, based out of Fort Campbell and known as the Screaming Eagles, endured a particularly hard year, losing more than 100 soldiers since last March. In fact, nearly one out of five American lives lost in Afghanistan in the past year has been lost from the 101st. The men and women who stood beside them honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight.
After a long deployment, many of the soldiers from the 101st are due to return home over the next few months--just as their brothers-in-arms from Fort Knox are deploying. About 3,500 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and the 703rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment will arrive in Afghanistan in the next few weeks or are already there. It is the biggest deployment from Fort Knox since World War II.
Hundreds of servicemembers from the Kentucky Air and Army National Guard are performing critical missions in Afghanistan as well. The 123rd Airlift Wing, the 2123rd Transportation Company, the 20th Special Forces Group and a Kentucky Guard Agricultural Development Team have all recently sent men and women to the fight, some who have served as many as six tours.
It was my honor to meet some of these brave warriors in person when I visited the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and also during my stop at Camp Leatherneck in the southern part of that country, the outpost for a number of Kentucky Marines.
These extraordinary men and women leave their loved ones thousands of miles behind and put on their country's uniform every day, with their lives in the balance. They've seen their friends and fellow soldiers and Marines make the ultimate sacrifice, and yet they fight on to accomplish a difficult mission. And they continue to make their country, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and this Senator very proud.
When we honor our servicemembers we also honor their families, who endure the long months with a loved one gone and in harm's way. This country would not have the finest fighting force in the world without their sacrifice and support as well.
It's brave servicemembers like the ones I got to meet who keep this country free. When both the Senate and the House of Representatives met in joint session recently to hear the President deliver his State of the Union address, we did so under the cloak of freedom that these heroes provide. America is grateful for their service and their sacrifice.