December 23, 2003,
Has this been a tough year for America? Think about that for a minute. I'll bet your answer is framed in terms of the war, the stock market, and politics. We'll all remember 2003 for the war in Iraq, and the tough economic times. But those memories are of news reports, debates with friends, and other things that blended seamlessly with our peacetime lives. For most Americans, 2003 hasn't been a year of personal sacrifice, or the horrors of war yet for a very small percentage of Americans, it has been all that. The armed services, and the families of the young men and women in harm's way, have made the sacrifice and borne the burdens for us, as they always do.
On this site at about this time last year, I wrote that we should all remember the soldier on Christmas Day. I said that we shouldn't think of the soldier as someone in need of charity, and that's still right. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are a tough, proud bunch, and they don't lack for much. But the simple fact is that our troops are now spending years not just months away from their families, and some are not coming home standing up. This Christmas, it's time to help care for those who are left behind, and for the families who are helping their young ones recover from battlefield injury. This isn't charity: It's one of the very few ways we can lighten the load they carry. Unsurprisingly, a lot of Americans are looking for a way to do just that.
The other day I was talking with a friend, one of my non-military pals, a Washington lobbyist of considerable repute who while a Hill staffer spent enough time around the troops to gain a great respect for them. Like many people, he is feeling a need to contribute something to the families of men who are now at the point of the spear. There are so many military-related charities, my friend didn't know how to choose one. He posed a tough question for me: to which should he donate?
I couldn't tell him which was "best," because there's no answer to that question. There are dozens of them, and all have something to offer. I told him about three that I try to support. Each of them is, to me, something very special.
The first one is literally "special," as in special operations. The president of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation is my friend, Col. John Carney, USAF (Ret.). John is a spec-ops veteran whose mission in life is to provide a college education for the children of special-ops troops Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Green Berets, Air Force PJs, Marine Recon, the whole bunch killed in the line of duty. SOWF is, right now, putting 66 of these kids through college, and many of them might never have gone to college at all but for John and his terrific bunch of dedicated people.
SOWF is more than just a funding mechanism. "When we make a commitment to a soldier that we'll put his kid through school, we can't just wait until they're 18. We have to stay in touch and help along the way. Maybe there's a learning disability or some other problem we need to help with. And we do," John told me. SOWF has a full-time professional psychologist that works with each child from the time the father is lost.
Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, the war on terrorism imposed a disproportionate number of casualties on the spec-ops guys. In addition to the 66 now in college thanks to SOWF, there are another 356 children of spec-ops warriors infants, toddlers, and older kids who are now fatherless. SOWF is committed to putting each of them through college. Donating to SOWF will help make that happen: check out www.specialops.org.
Another option is the Freedom Alliance. Founded in 1990 by my friend Oliver North, the Freedom Alliance is more than a charity. Like SOWF, it provides scholarship money to children of military families, but it also focuses on helping the troops themselves. Just a few days ago, Freedom Alliance president Tom Kilgallon went to visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, handing out long-distance phone cards and department-store gift certificates to the wounded soldiers. "We went there thinking we could cheer them up," Tom told me. "But it was them who cheered us up. We came out of there inspired by their courage, heroism, and undying optimism." You can select where your donation to Freedom Alliance goes: to the troops, to the college fund, or to their other great activities in support of America and its military.
Last, and certainly not least, is the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Of the forty million or so who have worn our nation's uniform in wartime since the Medal was created in Civil War days, only about 3,500 have been awarded the Medal of Honor. I have been fortunate to get to know a few of these men, and to support the Society is a privilege I appreciate. Donations to the Society go to several efforts, including paying the travel expenses for Medal recipients to go around America to schools and communities to help America's youth better appreciate their country. There is no way we can repay the debt we owe these guys. But we can help them do what they do best: set an example for the generations that follow.
And, of course, there are many more. If you're dedicated to your own service, or if a relative of yours is proud of his service in a particular branch and you want to honor that pride, there's a charity for you. The Big Green Machine has the Army Emergency Relief fund. For the navy and Marines there's the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. And for those of us who wore sky blue: the Air Force Aid Society.
Whichever military charity you may choose, you can help make a difference in the lives of the people who keep us free, and their families. While you're writing that check, look around you. Remember that but for those at the point of the spear, you'd never be able to sit back and enjoy your family as you can today: in that big, beautiful place we call the USA, the freest nation in the history of mankind. Merry Christmas.
NRO Contributor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and is now an MSNBC military analyst.