Remembering the sacrifices made to protect our freedom

The Memorial Day weekend marks the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Here in America, many songs have been written about summer that conjure up images of fun and laughter and all the good things that life can bring. In other parts of the world, spring, followed by summer, marks the fighting season.

When I came home from my tour of duty in Iraq on Memorial Day weekend in 2006, I had the chance to be out on a boat, the wind in my face, without armor for the first time in a year. And I never felt more free.

But this freedom that we enjoy comes with a cost. It always has and always will. In an ideal world, everyone gets along peacefully — and we should strive for that. In the real world, mankind has always had aggressors that threaten to destroy peace.

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Today, we see that aggression on many fronts: in space, on land, at sea, in our neighborhoods and on our personal computers. We are at war.

Our traditional adversaries are not asleep. Nations like Russia, China and North Korea are advancing their military capabilities at alarming rates and flexing their combative muscles. Islamic terrorists are attacking with greater sophistication, taking advantage of technology and human frailty with horrific barbarity.

And yet we are constantly asking our military to respond to these growing threats with few resources, putting their lives and ours in serious jeopardy. We are shortchanging our troops on the cost of our freedom.

Here’s just one example: In the Marine Corps, Class A Mishaps, which are defined as accidents that result in loss of life or loss of aircraft, are 84 percent above their 10-year average and have increased 50 percent since sequestration took effect.

If we are to maintain a strong and effective defense, our capabilities must match and exceed those of our enemies. That is a tall order in today’s environment, but it’s not impossible. Just last week, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, which makes vital investments in both maintenance for existing equipment and acquisition of new equipment. This bill attempts to address all of our military needs, but will the Senate concur? Will the president sign it or veto it?

A capable and deterring military also relies on the people who serve her ranks. Appropriate recruitment is of paramount importance in the military of today and tomorrow. We need to retain these recruits with adequate pay and benefits, and the promise to care for them when they return home. Battles can be fought both hand to hand and with the push of a button, so the skills needed range considerably: high-tech and cyber experience, training in foreign languages, physical force, etc.

Fortunately, while there are many opportunities for young able-bodied Americans, many have a desire to serve. They yearn to be part of something bigger than oneself. As a congressman, I encounter many of these impressive young people through the nomination process for the U.S. military academies.

So this Memorial Day weekend, take time to laugh and play. Spend time with loved ones. Be grateful for every ounce of freedom that you enjoy. Take time to look up to the heavens and say thank you. Remember that your happiness, your life opportunities, your freedom are the very reasons that those we memorialize this weekend gave of their lives. When you go to bed at night, and you feel safe, secure and unafraid, remember why.


Wenstrup has represented Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the House Armed Services, the Veterans’ Affairs, and the Intelligence committees.