Reflection needed as deployed are called home

With the announcement last Friday by President Obama that all American troops in Iraq would “definitely be home for the holidays,” I think it’s an appropriate time to pause and reflect on what these brave men and women have sacrificed for us and to thank them for their continuing, selfless service.

The raw numbers of the conflict in Iraq are astonishing and starkly display exactly how much it has cost us in money, injuries and lives lost by both civilians and troops. Since the invasion began almost nine years ago, on March 19, 2003, the U.S. has spent an estimated $757 billion in military operations alone. More than one million American troops have served a tour of duty in the country, 32,175 of whom have been injured.

There have been between 103,148 and 112,708 civilian deaths, and 4,471 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action. These figures, while small in comparison to other historical conflicts, are enormous in the minds of those who served, were injured or lost family and friends in the war. They should serve as a reminder to all Americans who take the luxuries of our daily lives for granted that freedom is certainly not free.

With this huge amount of sacrifice, I think it also important to reflect on what has been gained by this war, which the majority of Americans strongly oppose. Is America safer because of it? Has the quality of life for the Iraqi people improved? Has terrorism in the region decreased, and is the world a better place than it was before our invasion? Depending on your political persuasions, your answers to these questions undoubtedly differ. I would personally argue no to almost all of them.

However, there must be a distinction drawn between supporting the goals and methods of the Iraq war and supporting our brave troops who fight it for us. Lest someone accuse me of being unpatriotic, let me make myself entirely clear: While I may believe that America should never have gone in to Iraq, I wholeheartedly support our troops for their dedication, their unfailing acts of courageousness and their love for country.

It goes without saying that these are the people who exemplify the shared American values of hard work and service to others, many of whom they don’t even know. Most of us could never even imagine ourselves in their position, and for that alone they deserve our thanks. We should also thank their families and closest friends, who deal with the absence of their mothers, fathers, sons and daughters daily, sometimes for years on end.

It would be nearly impossible for us to show our appreciation to these individuals for all they give. Maybe the best way to do so is to model our lives with the same selflessness they possess. While “thank you” just doesn’t seem to cut it, we should still try.

So, as one war comes to a close and another continues, we send our deepest gratitude to the men and women who have served or are currently serving America, and we remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.