My Turn: Remember our citizen-soldiers

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2006

Every summer we celebrate our independence by saluting the flag, parading in our communities and grilling food with friends and loved ones. Alaskans have another reason to celebrate - and to truly remember the sacrifice of freedom. This month, over 600 Alaska National guardsmen are deploying to Iraq.

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The National Guard has played a major part in the freedom we enjoy today. More than 200 years ago, on the east coast of our country, minutemen took up arms and fought off the colonialism of the British to establish the freedom we take for granted today. After the fighting was finished, these citizen-soldiers went back to their shops and fields to continue their everyday lives. This was the beginning.

Halfway around the world, our citizen-soldiers are answering the call to help others gain their independence. In Iraq and Afghanistan, people have been suffering for almost 30 years, and they need our help. With despots and dictators suffocating the ability to choose, a breed of terrorists has formed enabled by these foul leaders. Finally, the people suffering in these countries have reached out for our help.

Alaskans, in both the Army and the Air National Guard, are leaving within this next week to fight the war on terrorism and, more importantly, give freedom to a repressed people. Citizen-soldiers are providing this service, hailing from Barrow down to Dillingham and across to Juneau. These fine Americans are a shining example of what is good and just in the world.

Our Guard members have already drawn the attention of national media outlets. Many people of Alaska Native decent are part of this deployment, and we are very proud of their service. In peace time, these fine men and women play a key role in protecting and providing for their remote communities. With the help of National Guard family services, these folks have prepared to keep their communities protected while they are away.

I can tell you that when I've looked into the eyes of these young soldiers and airmen, as I've spoken with them, I've seen promise, hope and purpose. To a person, they are remarkable, and they voluntarily stepped forward to serve Alaska and our nation.

It is true love of family and friends, devotion to one another, and a sense of tradition that calls them to service. Our elders, who just a few generations ago during World War II and throughout the Cold War, selflessly gave themselves to protect our borders from invasion, set this example. This is a deep-seeded patriotism that quietly permeates each individual, and a community.

I've probably said this about a million times, and it is true: "When the Guard goes to war, America goes to war." That is not a disparaging remark, it is a self-evident statement. The war on terrorism has come home to Alaska in a deeply moving way.

The mission of our guardsmen will be more than fighting insurgents. They will fight to add hope and happiness to the lives of millions by providing a safe and secure environment. Alaskans will protect the grocer's children who attend school, the banker who will help others build financial security, and the entertainer, who will be free to sell Hollywood DVDs and the latest magazines from London.

Support your neighbors and loved ones as they go off to protect you, by giving them a warm send off and continuing to remember them with gifts of support while they're away. Their duty to our state and country will never be forgotten. Honor and respect them when they come home.

They are doing this for us - for the freedoms we so cherish and for a disparaged people who once only dreamed to live a life that we take for granted. God bless our guardsmen, and we pray for their safe return.

• Maj. Gen. Craig E. Campbell is an adjutant general for the Alaska National Guard, based in Anchorage. He is also commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

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