Guest column/Let’s all volunteer to support our troops

As Christmas approaches, I’ve been reflecting on all of the blessings I’ve received. As someone who grew up in a small farm house without indoor plumbing, I am grateful that I actually lived the American Dream.

Today, the world is a very different place than on that small mule farm – the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and other acts of terrorism we’ve seen on our television screens are reminders. They are becoming more frequent – the trend is going in the wrong direction. The enemies of freedom are becoming bolder. We’re at war against a toxic ideology that employs asymmetrical warfare, terror, and a sophisticated use of social media to recruit more terrorists and encourage more carnage. The roots of this war already go back decades, it will be a long one.

Looking back to 2001, President Bush rallied Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. We were united in a way I had not experienced in my lifetime. He stood on the rubble of the World Trade Center and vowed that “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” Al-Qaida heard from us, and they were on the run during the rest of his presidency.

But, I think President Bush missed an important opportunity to convert that initial support – to marshal that national pride – into true lasting civic involvement on the home front. As thousands of American troops headed to Afghanistan and Iraq to confront a battle hardened enemy overseas, the president asked little of the American people back home. He simply encouraged us to live our normal lives, and do activities we normally would – like go shopping or head out to the movies. I wish he had asked for more, because it’s going to take all of us to overcome the current challenges facing us.

We are at war with radical Islamic extremism. It’s a different kind of war than World War II, but it’s still war. And, all Americans have another chance to show their support. Today, I’m challenging every American to support our troops in a very real way, by volunteering 40 hours with a military-related charity in 2016. I will be doing this, and I am asking my staff to follow my lead.

It could be volunteering at a local VA hospital, assembling care packages for troops, reaching out to military families, getting involved with the Wounded Warrior Project or supporting one of the many other worthwhile charities and veteran-related organizations. I served for more than 26 years in the U.S. Air Force, and I know the good that so many of these groups do. I also know the difference it makes, when troops know that America has their back.

Forty hours may seem like a lot – it’s not. It’s less than an hour a week.

I suspect that once most people become involved, they’ll find they get more out of it than they put in. It’s a small token of support, but it shows unity in confronting one of the greatest threats of our time. It’s the least we can all do to show our appreciation for those brave American warriors serving around the world today – many in hostile areas – to turn the tide in this struggle.

Volunteering after you get off work won’t destroy ISIS. But, a united America will strengthen us and show our resolve: Republicans and Democrats, those who live in cities, and those who live on farms, black and white, the rich and those struggling to make ends meet. It’d send a powerful signal that we all stand as one for freedom and American values.

We are blessed. We make Facebook posts about our high school football games, movies and concerts we attend. We go to church, share a Thanksgiving dinner, play with our kids, study hard and go to college, change jobs or maybe start a small business. As Americans, we have the opportunity to improve our lives. As Americans, we have comforts that many in other parts of the world do not … we shouldn’t take them for granted. Our men and women in uniform stand guard at freedom’s gate – they enable us to have the opportunities we do. Let’s show them how appreciative we are.

This Christmas, I hope you’ll accept this challenge, and encourage family, friends and neighbors to do the same. God bless you and your families, and God bless America.

(Johnson, a Republican from Marietta, represents Ohio’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Jefferson, Harrison, Carroll, Belmont and Columbiana counties.)


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