'War is hell."
This phrase dates back to at least the Civil War. For 150 years, brilliant military minds and legendary writers have offered other eloquent descriptions, but as someone who served in combat, I use these words to describe my experience.
In war, even the best judgments can have terrible consequences. The only thing you can count on is the solider standing next to you and the shared belief that duty, honor, and country are more than just words. As the last of those who have served in Iraq return, this creed reminds us that those who volunteered to fight there were willing to die for our country - for us.
The troops who fought this war came from every corner of America. We signed up to defend our country when it needed us. Some, like me, grew up hearing our fathers' and our uncles' voices swell with pride when they spoke about serving their country, and it inspired us to sign up.
Many of us volunteered for combat after Sept. 11 and never looked back. On that unforgettable Tuesday morning when terror struck, I was a young Army captain teaching constitutional law at West Point. I marched into my commander's office and told him I wanted to join the fight to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. A few months later, I left on the first of two deployments.
At the time, some future combat vets were in third grade, just learning how to sign their names. Years later, they signed their names again, committing themselves to our military in a time of war.
Gen. George S. Patton said, "There's a great deal of talk about loyalty from the bottom to the top. Loyalty from the top down is even more necessary and is much less prevalent."
President Obama understands that. He has shown not just loyalty to our troops, but the courage to refocus our efforts on bringing Bin Laden to justice and our troops home. By keeping his word to bring the war to a responsible end - a promise he made to our military and the public - the president has honored the sacrifice of our troops and their families. No one else will have to make the ultimate sacrifice in a war that has gone on far too long, a war the president and I both believe never should have been waged.
As support for troops becomes support for veterans, the president is leading the way to make sure veterans have the help and resources they need to make the transition back into civilian life. He's gotten pledges from America's largest businesses to hire veterans and their spouses and made sure that the health care we earned on the battlefield covers not just our visible wounds, but also invisible ones like depression, problem drinking, and post-traumatic stress. And he has ensured implementation of the new GI Bill and repeal of the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
The values that drive every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine to serve America must also drive the way we treat our veterans. Hire them, welcome them home, and do what you can.
In the end, service is about putting our country ahead of politics and following the example set by our commander-in-chief by honoring the service of all who sacrificed more than we'll ever know. We must all do our part.