During World War II, my father spent more than one Christmas thousands of miles from home on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific theater. My family and I missed him, but we took comfort in the knowledge that his service was important and that he was fighting for us and for our country.
Many of you today are stationed in foreign lands and combat theaters far from friends and family. Over the holidays, you no doubt are thinking about them even more than usual. And even though there may be no place you would rather be this season than home with them, know that what you are doing -- wherever you are -- protects them and provides them with a truly special gift. You are defending their freedom. And they are safer because of your service.
This has been an eventful year for the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. Americans remember with pride:
Your relief of areas devastated by the tsunami;
The rescue of your fellow Americans in flooded New Orleans and Gulf states; and
Your support for earthquake survivors in Pakistan.
Those of you who have served in Afghanistan may think of:
The education you made possible for millions of Afghan girls and boys;
The second free Afghan election across a country once torn by war and now daring to hope; and
Hunting down remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda seeking to take back that country and attack America once again.
And many of you who have served in Iraq might recall:
In three elections, the purple fingers of proud voters you helped free from tyranny;
The liberation of towns in western Iraq from Baathist thugs and foreign jihadists; or
The image of a tyrant on trial, confronted by the witnesses he once terrorized.
By serving our country this season, whether you are stationed at home or abroad, you are part of an American tradition as old as the struggle for our nation's independence, when Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night. And like that of those who fought before you, the work you do will be remembered, and recounted, many Christmases from now.
One battalion commander in Iraq tells troops:
"One day . . . you're going to be sitting there with your son on your leg and you'll be watching the History Channel. And you're going to see Operation Iraqi Freedom. And you're going to see the next democratic government elected. And you're going to hold that little child on your leg and . . . say, 'Daddy did that. "
His words are right on -- not only for his troops, but for every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine defending our country at home or abroad.
The holiday season is a time when Americans reflect on what is most important in our lives. It is with gratitude that we might reflect on what a special place our country is. Consider the military doctors operating on wounded Afghans and Iraqis, or traveling to Africa to aid starving children, and the billions of dollars Americans contribute every year to charities, to the poor, and to the hungry.
And consider that each of is a volunteer. You each raised your hand and said "send me. " And the task has fallen to you to protect our way of life and to keep America that special place that billions of people around the world look to in times of turmoil and tragedy -- and the country to which millions, braving danger, have crossed oceans and deserts to find.
In this "long war" ahead, the freedom and opportunity that our forefathers sought are the very things the enemy attacks and hopes to take away. They are what some have called the American Dream, and what led one writer to say, "America is a willingness of the heart. "
That dream, that willingness of the heart, is what each of you have sacrificed for and helped to defend. And I want you to know that your country is grateful to each of you, and the cause of human freedom is stronger today because of you.
And so to every American in uniform, I thank you for your service. I congratulate you on a year of enormous accomplishment. And I wish you and your families a happy holiday season, and a safe and successful new year.
Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Merry Christmas trooper! Keep your powder dry and come home to us as soon as possible! God Bless!