Ten years ago, during my first year as Attorney General, I spent a fall morning at the Port of Little Rock. There I watched as members of the Arkansas Army National Guard's 39th Infantry Brigade loaded up gear for their first deployment to Iraq. Speaking with them, it was obvious that some were anxious, others eager, and most were unsure of what exactly to expect. These courageous men and women served our nation honorably and bravely in Iraq, many signed up for additional deployments, and, sadly, some gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, 10 years later, I'm proud to report that for the first time in a decade, all members of our Army National Guard will be stateside for the holidays. We reached this wonderful milestone earlier this month, when 47 guardsmen completed a nine-month deployment in Kuwait. As a State, we thank them for their service, and we honor their loved ones for the sacrifices they made, as well. Their return has come just in time to make this an unforgettable holiday gift for many Arkansas families.
These members of the Guard return with skill sets that will bolster the workforce in Arkansas. For example, the last group to return consisted of highly trained mechanics, electricians and technicians.
However, returning veterans have found it more difficult to reclaim or find new jobs during the slow national recovery. Recently, we've seen a groundswell of efforts, including in Arkansas, to ensure that these servicemen and women can find successful livelihoods upon their return home.
Walmart, for example, projects that it will hire more than 100,000 veterans over the next five years as part of its Veterans Welcome Home Commitment. But it doesn't take a major employer to do something positive. Each of us can contribute to the well-being of our men and women in uniform.
Unfortunately, some military employees living in Arkansas have recently seen financial hardship due to the recent federal government shutdown. While they received back pay after the shutdown was resolved, the lapse in claims and paychecks caused many in the military to fall behind on bills and incur late fees. Many are still trying to catch up and put their households back on stable financial footing.
This holiday season, as you exchange gifts with loved ones, remember the gifts our military members, past and present, have given to us. Arkansans remain deployed around the world with active military forces and the Arkansas Air National Guard. Some remain directly in harm's way in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Their sacrifices have helped to safeguard the freedoms we enjoy this holiday season. We salute their service, honor their sacrifice, and thank them for supporting our State and our Nation. And most of all, we are so happy to welcome all of the men and women of the Arkansas Army National Guard back to American soil. For many families, it will make this a special Christmas to remember. Ginger and I hope yours is memorable and happy as well.