This Memorial Day weekend, Americans across our nation will spend time with family and friends -- enjoying parades, barbeques, ballgames and the great outdoors.
But it's important that we also take time to remember the men and women who have given their lives defending the United States. While we cannot repay the debt of gratitude we owe these service members, we can honor their memory. We can pay tribute to our veterans, as well as those who today are on active duty.
Many of our service members come from rural America. Our values as a nation are rooted in rural areas of the country, and folks in rural America know that you can't keep taking from the land -- you also have to give back. They know the same is true for a nation. They understand that we all share in an obligation to serve and to strengthen a country that has given each of us so much.
That might be why, while 16 percent of Americans live in rural America, nearly 40 percent of our military come from rural areas. And perhaps it's why more than 6 million of our veterans live in rural communities -- a higher concentration than anywhere else in the country.
America's greatness rests on the shoulders of thousands of these men and women -- and those who came before them. At USDA and across the Federal government, we're working hard to ensure our returning veterans have the support they need to find work and live the American dream.
USDA has invested in more than 50,000 rural businesses to help them create jobs. We've invested in more than 500 projects to improve VA clinics in rural areas. We've increased our own hiring of veterans in each of the past three years while helping provide valuable work experience and job search assistance for many more veterans.
And for the first time this year, all active duty service men and women and their dependents are now eligible for a free annual pass to more than 2,000 public lands, including National Forests and National Parks, across the country. This is a small gesture, but I'm proud that we can offer free access to these natural treasures for the folks who have given so much for our nation.
This weekend, I hope all Americans will join me in paying tribute to those who lost their lives in our nation's defense, while honoring millions of American veterans. And I hope that together we take time to thank all men and women in uniform who are currently serving around the world, as well as their families back home.
I will never forget the tremendous impact, one which is often understated, that those from rural America have had in defending our nation. And this Memorial Day, all of us should stand together in saying "thank you."