Nothing offers a more graphic reminder that the United States remain at war than farewell ceremonies honoring National Guard troops headed for foreign combat deployment.
Thousands of Mississippians – more than 3,000 soldiers – have been affected in recent weeks with the departure for training of the 155th Armored Brigade and A-Troop 1-230th Air Cavalry Squadron, both headquartered in Tupelo, both bound ultimately for another tour of duty in Iraq.
In addition, the Vicksburg-based 168th Engineering Brigade is on active duty in Afghanistan, after mobilization in late 2008.
Many other Mississippians continue service in the two war zones from earlier deployments, both in regular volunteer military roles, other National Guard units, and narrowly focused activations.
Events suggest that troop levels and National Guard deployments will continue in both Iraq and Afghanistan for an indefinite time. While President Obama has said he will start this year drawing down the troop levels in Iraq, about 50,000 troops will remain as a permanent peace-keeping force.
In Afghanistan, an additional 21,000 troops will be deployed this spring, bringing the American total in a NATO force to about 57,000.
The 21,000 paratroopers, infantrymen and Marines being deployed to Afghanistan will continue a fight to maintain a shaky democracy and defeat al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents while also training Afghan soldiers and police.
Far from winding down from a war footing, the U.S. has reinforced its commitment to defeat al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists, plus helping stabilize Pakistan, though not at this time with deployments of troops.
It might take three to five years to achieve significant progress against the Taliban, a senior allied commander, Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, told Pentagon reporters last week in a report published in The Washington Post.
Hometown and home state support remains essential to the morale of men and women sent halfway around the world to fight our nation’s battles against an enemy that has a passionately deadly ideology but no official government backing its efforts.
Into this peril the U.S. has sent more than 1.5 million regular military, National Guard and Reserve personnel over a seven-year span.
While the percentage of National Guard personnel has remained relatively small within the total force, their deployments are always felt closest to home because their historic mission has not been overseas, but in homeland defense and activation during natural or civil emergencies.
We owe them our respect, loyalty and continuing support. They serve regardless of their personal political views and affiliations, and our support should follow them in the same spirit.