WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For many Americans, it's a week of reflection, these last days of 2006. Some spend that time celebrating the Christmas season with prayer and thanksgiving. Others take advantage of "after Christmas" sales at department stores, buying the junk that was omitted from their stockings. Those fortunate enough to have the means take stock of their stocks and bonds, and others write down resolutions that will command their attention for the first few weeks of January.
However one spends these last hours of 2006, Americans should take care to thank and pray for those who have defended our nation throughout the year -- our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines. Having just returned from Iraq, the Marines with whom I was embedded would obviously like to be home for the holidays with their families, but they forgo a personal comfort to protect our national security. It is true of all our service members, wherever they are stationed this New Year.
Most of them have also missed Easter, Independence Day and Thanksgiving -- not to mention the birthdays, anniversaries and graduations of their loved ones. It used to be said that "if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one." But those days are gone. Today, roughly half of those serving in uniform are married -- proving that the hearts of even our toughest troops can be pierced by Cupid's arrow. It also shows that military service is as much a family commitment as it is personal.
That's important to remember as our president looks to increase the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps in 2007. In an effort to ease the strain on a force that has had its hands full since the war on terror began, and because our liberty needs to be defended, the president and the secretary of defense will ask more families to step up and accept the challenges and rewards of military life.
As President Bush reminded us last week, "this war on terror is the calling of a new generation; it is the calling of our generation. Success is essential," he said, "to securing a future of peace for our children and grandchildren. And securing this peace for the future is going to require a sustained commitment from the American people and our military."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.