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As we go about our daily lives, walking down the street, going to work, or paddling out for a surf, it is sometimes easy to forget that we are a country at war.  Bullets flying in Afghanistan just seem so far away from our peaceful lives in beautiful Hawai’i.  However, in Afghanistan alone, we still have close to 100,000 troops, placing their lives in harms way every single day.  They are our friends, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, who serve courageously, never knowing if each day will be their last.  They have left behind anxious parents, an overwhelmed spouse, and confused children; all wondering every night before they go to sleep, “When will my loved one come home?”  This is their reality.  

While we may be far removed from the grit and harshness of combat, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of, “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Our troops and veterans deserve so much more.  

For over 200 years, men and women from all walks of life, whether called Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine, have answered our nation’s call to service in times of war and peace, serving in locations around the world. Whether providing humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters or conducting direct military operations against hostile forces, they salute the flag and serve proudly in the defense of our nation.

So how can we best honor our veterans?  By doing everything we can as citizens of this great democracy to make sure that our troops are not sent into or kept in harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary for our national security.  This brings me to Afghanistan.  We have lost far too many of our loved ones, heroes like Kraig Vickers of Maui or Jonathan Brostrom of Oahu, in an Afghanistan war that has stretched on for over 10 long years.  Over 1700 others have lost their lives and thousands more have been seriously wounded.

These brave souls made it possible to achieve our original objective of entering Afghanistan, by decimating al-Qaeda in that country, taking out Osama Bin Laden, and giving the Afghan people the opportunity to pursue democracy.  Now, the best way we can honor them is to immediately bring our troops home from Afghanistan as quickly and safely as possible.  We cannot afford to risk any more lives on a fight that no longer has a clear goal.

Those veterans who have returned home continue to inspire all of us, as their service to our country never ends.  Everywhere you turn, you will find a veteran working in some way to continue their selfless service to our community.  As a society, we are increasingly frustrated that those in positions of power do not reflect the same selfless sacrifice that is present in our veterans.  We dangerously have so-called leaders who are not motivated by a desire to put service before self, but who are instead stuck in a cycle of greed and selfish ambition.  

Yet, we have it in our power to affect change and to make a difference.  On this Veterans Day, let’s take a moment to reflect on the hope and sacrifice that our veterans’ lives inspire.  Think about how we can apply this value of selfless service in our own lives and in our own way. Take action that will directly impact our current generation of veterans, and call on President Obama and our congressional delegation to bring our troops home from Afghanistan into the loving embrace of their families.

Tulsi Gabbard, a Captain in the Hawai’i Army National Guard and two-time Middle East combat veteran, currently serves on reserve status at 103rd Troop Command.  She is a former State Legislator and currently represents District 6 on the Honolulu City Council.

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