Editor's note: K.T. McFarland has just returned from visiting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Lent is the season when many Christians offer sacrifice. We give up chocolate, or bread, or steer clear of eating meat on Fridays as a symbol of Christ’s 40 days in the desert. If we make it all the way through Lent to Easter, we’re proud of ourselves, maybe even a little smug and self-righteous for our ability to do without.
Last week I was in Afghanistan and saw what our military men and women do without every day. Things like the sound of their children’s laughter….a peck on the cheek from a loved one while dashing out the door to work…..flopping down on the sofa to relax in front of the TV after a long day…a hot shower….a home-cooked meal…a soft mattress and clean sheets.
But our servicemen and women do without those things for weeks on end, for months at a time. Our active duty forces are in combat for longer periods and with less time at home than ever before. Our reserve forces are being called up more frequently deployed longer.
Our servicemen and women are stretched to the breaking point, and increasingly isolated from the rest of American society. Only 1% of Americans serve in the military in our all-volunteer forces, and it is too easy for the other 99% of us to ignore their sacrifices.
When our forces are deployed overseas, it is 24/7, with no weekends off, no R&R trips away from the front lines. -- Because in modern warfare everything is the front line. You don’t know who your enemy is, because he’s not wearing a uniform. He’s wearing a long, loose-fitting shirt (kamiz shalwar) that could just be baggy….or cover a suicide vest. You could be the target of a sniper hidden on a rooftop, or walk over an IED buried under a harmless looking rock.
Last week I was sitting in a small restaurant at the “Milano”, the recreation center at the ISAF base in Kabul, taking advantage of the great wireless reception to read my e-mails.
In a small table in the corner, a young man in full combat gear sat in front of his open laptop, earphones plugged in and laughing and chatting away. He was skyping with his family; it sounded like he had young children. When he closed the laptop, and took out his earphones, he pressed a hand to his eyes and brushed away the beginnings of a tear. Somehow my "sacrifice" of giving up chocolate for Lent seemed pathetically inadequate.
Whatever you may think about the war in Afghanistan, or Iraq or Libya, remember our military men and women this Easter weekend. Say a special prayer for their safe return, and when you see someone in uniform, give them your thanks.
Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's DefCon 3. She served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, and wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger’s November 1984 "Principles of War Speech" which laid out the Weinberger Doctrine. Be sure to watch "K.T." every Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on FoxNews.com's "DefCon3"-- already one of the Web's most watched national security programs.