During this holiday season, I ask you to join me in remembering the military men and women at home and abroad who work every day to preserve our freedoms.  It is through their service and sacrifice that we lead peaceful lives during these uncertain times around the world.

As a member of the Mississippi Army National Guard for 32 years, I know firsthand what it means to be away from family and friends during the holidays.  As a soldier, if you cannot be with your family and friends over the holidays, there is no better place to be than with your second family – your family in uniform.

Thanksgiving 2005, I was deployed to Iraq with the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team.  We had several notable visitors that selflessly chose to visit us while we were away, including former Governor Haley Barbour.  It meant so much to me, and every other soldier, to be able to see a familiar face from home. We knew that these visitors did not have to spend time away from their families during the holiday season, but their presence reminded us of the support that we had back home in Mississippi. Knowing how much visits like this meant to me and my fellow soldiers, one of my top priorities has been showing my gratitude to those currently serving in harm’s way.  This Thanksgiving I led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to visit soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines stationed and deployed in locations across Poland, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Ireland.  

My colleagues and I traveled to remote regions of these countries to talk with military leadership and with troops on the ground.  We also met with national defense leaders to better understand the current posture and readiness of U.S. forces in these locations.  For example, through the Department of Defense State Partnership Program (SSP), the Mississippi Army National Guard has a long established military partnership with Uzbekistan.  Through this program, Mississippians are able to conduct joint exercises with the Uzbek armed forces.  I have seen firsthand the value of this program and partnerships like these, which are designed to build a well-rounded relationship that goes beyond military exercises.  Ultimately, however, this trip allowed me and my congressional colleagues to share in person our appreciation of service and to help serve the Thanksgiving meal to our military men and women stationed in Afghanistan.

At this hour, American service members are working with our allies across the globe to protect our shared interests in the face of rising threats around the world.  As we continue the holiday season, take the time to remember the men and women who have made a commitment to protect America. They are far from home, placing their lives on the line every day so that we can make memories with our families. America is the land of the free because of them.

TRENT KELLY  is a U.S. Represebtative serving Mississippi’s First District.

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