Most troops have returned home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fewer than 10,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in June 2011. Only about 3,000 remain in Iraq, down from more than 166,000 in October 2007.
Life isn’t necessarily back to normal for service members and their families. While we have fewer troops on the ground, we’re still covering the skies and the seas. Our naval presence is as high as it’s been for decades. Turmoil in the Middle East, Europe and the Asia-Pacific has our military in a state of constant readiness.
All that adds up to this: Times are not getting easier for the men and women of the military and their families. They need our support today as much as ever and as we enjoy the holiday season, we should remember this fact.
The demands on our servicemen and women remain high and I’m not just talking about those who are forward deployed. Anyone who has served at home knows that stateside duty is demanding in its own right.
When you’re overseas, you’re expected to miss birthday parties, graduations and anniversaries. Your family understands why you’re not there but when you’re back home, your family expects you to be around, even though much of your time is still not your own. The schedule is strenuous, the hours are long and you’re often focused on preparing for the next deployment.
You get a few hours to rest then it’s back to work. Your family still needs you— and you need them— but your obligation to the service is ironclad.
Civilians have taken to calling this work-life balance. Military families have long known it simply as the way life is.
I bring this up because while we rightly praise the service and sacrifices that millions of servicemen and women have made for our nation, we rarely give enough credit to the families. They’re the ones who help service members stay resolute.
Veterans and their families deserve our support and resources. It’s too easy to ignore the many sacrifices that these families make each day.
Fortunately, policymakers— including military veterans, by no coincidence— have come through on this front.
Child development centers help young military families make ends meet. Base housing eases the stress of frequent moves. First-rate medical care helps keep service members and families healthy. And access to counseling— whether before deployment or after— helps families work through their demanding lifestyle.
Even seemingly little things matter, like the cheaper groceries at on-base commissaries.
Continued government support helps, but it isn’t enough. Private-sector programs for veterans and their families help fill the gap.
At my firm, Raytheon, we recently pledged $10 million over five years to fund scholarships for veterans through Student Veterans of America, along with educational support for military families through Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
There is still more we can all do. We should collectively advocate across public and private sectors to increase support for our service members and veterans.
We must make clear to our servicemen and women that our commitment to them and their families is unwavering.
Retired U.S Navy Vice Adm. Rick Hunt is vice president of the Raytheon U.S. Business Development organization.