As the United States is entering its 19th year of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the presence of our troops in the respective regions can be out of sight and out of mind. All it takes is some attention, such as a breaking news story, for eyes and hearts to turn back to remembering the dangers our men and women in uniform continue to face. The attacks on U.S. military bases this month reminded the nation we still have troops on the ground and their lives were in imminent danger.
In the last couple of weeks, our U.S. Embassy in Iraq was under attack, Iran-backed militias were responsible for the death of an American contractor, and most recently, more than a dozen missiles attacked Iraqi-U.S. bases housing our troops. Out of the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq, more than 2,000 are from Alaska. Between the Stryker Brigade out of Fort Wainwright and the Alaska Guard Rescue Squadron from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, our Alaska troops have a large presence in the region and are key contributors in supporting Operation Inherent Resolve in an effort to eliminate the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Alaska soldiers were in charge of fence and base exterior security at Al-Asad. The night before the missile attacks, the base commander ordered troops to bunker and lock down the bases. Some units were able to evacuate with their aircraft while others sought shelter in hardened buildings or bunkers. However, many of the Alaska soldiers were to remain on the fence to ensure base security during the attack and sheltered in their vehicles.
After the attacks, commanders sought accountability of their troops and checked for casualties. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or EOD, teams conducted sweeps to ensure no units remained unexploded. Afterward, they began the clean-up process to remove rubble, destroyed buildings and equipment.
I’ve spoken to several of our Alaska-based military members and expressed my admiration for their strength under fire as well as relief that they sustained no casualties. Their matter-of-fact attitude of “we were just doing our job” is inspirational. It hasn’t taken long for news reports to shift to the next hot-button issue, and most have already stopped talking about the strikes and the status of our U.S. troops. It’s important as the reports of what’s happening in the Middle East are less frequent, we remember our troops are still there. As I’ve learned, sometimes the best thing we can do to help is simply be supportive to them and their families back home. To let them know while they are far in distance, they are near at heart.
I thank these men and women for their service and remind Alaskans and the nation that we must never forget their sacrifices. Our “thank you” needs to be continuous, not just when the news is on the front page.
I encourage Alaskans to think about ways we can show our support for those who serve our country, their families and loved ones, and to let them know through our actions that they are appreciated — from how we remember them while afar to welcoming them when they come back home.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, is Alaska’s senior U.S. senator.
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