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."
Those in the Washington press corps who put down the report of the Iraq Study Group long enough to listen to what the president said, scoffed at it. For the word "victory" cannot be found in the playbook of either party right now. The discussion among our craven congressional cranks and the pessimistic pundits is about how and when to surrender in Iraq. These "virtual generals" have played this game too long -- they're tired of it. They can't wait for the policy discussions in Washington to once again be dominated by topics like midnight basketball and school uniforms.
But if we give up in Iraq and give in to Islamic jihadists, the day will come when there will be school uniforms. They won't, however, be plaid skirts and neckties as issued by the Good Sisters of St. Mary's -- and good luck trying to distinguish one little girl from the next.
"We have an obligation to ensure our military is capable of sustaining this war over the long haul, and in performing the many tasks that we ask of them," Bush added. "The advance of liberty has never been easy, and Iraq is proving how tough it can be."
True enough. But there are measures of success. I saw it myself -- Iraqi police are being trained and taking more responsibility for the safety of their neighborhoods. It may not be happening overnight, but it is progress. Saddam Hussein, the former leader who preyed on his own people, has now been sentenced to death and within the month, barring any further legal complications, he will be hanged, and justice -- thanks to the patient confidence of the Iraqi people -- will be done.
As we reflect on things at the end of this year, let us ask ourselves why our confidence to overcome hurdles has eroded and how we can reclaim it. Officials in Washington may not want to admit it, but there is a "long haul" ahead against Islamic jihadists. For that, we need to add to the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force in the world. And for the fact that we did not experience an attack on our homeland in 2006, we need to thank them, as well as the professionals in our homeland security agencies. To all those involved in defending our country, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
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.
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