Open letter to those who serve

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, November 6, 2013

by Randy Forbes

On the eve of Veterans Day, I often reflect on the men and women who have kept our nation strong and free. Over the course of a year, I meet, speak to and hear of many who commit their lives’ work to the national security of our citizens. This year, I reflect on five of those stories that I’ve encountered, and I want to take a moment to speak directly and openly to these individuals.

To the veteran who served in Korea: You told me you still keep the uniform you wore in the back of your closet. It smells of starch all these years later. Occasionally you pull it out, brush the dust from the plastic dry cleaning cover, and remember. You can still see the faces of the men left behind. Last year you visited the Korean War Memorial in Washington. As you pressed your palm against the cold stone statue, tears clouded your eyes. It could have been you. How different things seem today. Being a veteran often means fighting red tape and waiting in lines at the VA clinic. You know personally about the mounds of paperwork and backlogs at the VA. You used to think your nation took good care of its veterans.

Here is what I offer to you: We are thankful for you. Our nation called. And you were one that answered that call. Our veterans are remarkable for not seeking any special attention for what they have contributed to this country. Just as you have fought for America, I will fight for you: for uncompromised care, excellence in hospital care, and benefits without strings.

To the service member who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan: Your first child was born just days after the towers fell. You remember the emotions. You remember the fear. What was this world that you brought children into? Seven years later, you waved goodbye to two toddlers and a grade-schooler. It was your third tour – one more year away. You still remember the look in your wife’s eyes that day. She was trying her best to hide it, but she was tired. But your country had asked again and you showed up again. Now, you hear that the president wants to reduce pay raises for members of the military. You hear folks sneer when they talk about GI benefits or commissary privileges.

Here is what I say to you: The success of our nation depends on the character of men and women like you. I do not take for granted your work for our nation. I am privileged to have shaken hands with many like you. To support you is my priority. I refuse to place the burden of our fiscal challenges on the backs of our service members. Defense spending in support of our men and women in uniform is not the cause of our fiscal woes, and cutting the benefits earned by our brave service members is not the solution.

To the defense civilian: Your stomach dropped when you first learned that you’d have a 20 percent pay reduction for almost three months this summer. You immediately started scrambling numbers in an Excel document. Where would you find the money to make ends meet? Friends at the office had talked about how they’d be bringing lunch to work. But you were a single mom; that would not cut it for you. You had a mortgage on a townhouse that was underwater. Over the summer, you sold old clothes and an exercise bike on Craigslist, and you used the $400 in your savings account for the car payments. There was some small relief when news broke that the furloughs would be reduced. But the uncertainty was staggering and the savings you’d spent months building up was vanishing. Next came a government shutdown and a missed paycheck. What little savings you’d been able to keep this year was reduced to nearly nothing. Rumors of more pain to come in the new year were hard to ignore. Rumors of furloughs and layoffs in the new year continue. You notice an ad in the paper for a manager at a corporation nearby. Tonight you’ll be submitting your resume.

Here is what I say to you: You are a patriot who has dedicated your life to supporting our Armed Services. You might not wear a uniform, but you have no less devotion to excellence in your work for our nation and deserve all Americans’ respect and gratitude for the sacrifices you have made to support our warfighters. You deserve better than the erosion of our national defense by irresponsible cuts or the uncertainty of a government shutdown. Since voting against sequestration in 2011, I have repeatedly warned about its devastating effects. I will not stop fighting to work to reverse these devastating cuts and end the destructive furloughing of our Defense Department civilians.

To the career military officer: You’ve made the service to the military your life. As others climb the corporate ladder, you pack your family every three years and watch as your daughter hugs her friends and cries when the moving truck pulls away.

Here at your new duty station, your wife has been looking for a job. It’s been three months now. It always takes a little time, but in this economy you wonder if it will happen at all. You’ve always reminded yourself of the retirement benefits that you have been promised – it’s one way you can give back to your family after all these years of sacrifice. Now you hear the president wants sweeping changes to the military retirement system. You worry whether that will affect you and that weighs heavily on you.

Here is what I say to you: Your sacrifice, and your family’s sacrifice, is noticed. You made a promise to defend our nation, and our nation needs to keep the promises it made to you. I have fought these changes tirelessly, and will continue to do so. Our military men and women simply cannot and should not have to bear an unfair amount of our fiscal burden.

To the young student considering service in our volunteer military: Since the time you held your grandpa’s Purple Heart in your hands, it became your dream to join the military. You can’t wait to serve this nation. You know it will be hard work, but this is your calling. It’s your time to serve. Only lately, you’ve heard the military is being forced to cut thousands of troops. You wonder if they even need you now.

Here is what I offer to you: Our country does need you. Now more than ever. Your service and commitment to our nation will make us a better. There will be hurdles, failures, triumphs, and fears. But there will always be those who are grateful for you.

This Veterans Day, I want to say thank you to all who commit their lives to our nation. You’ve fought and given your all for us. There are still those of us who are proud to fight for you.

U.S. REP. RANDY FORBES, R-Va., represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is