While I make it a point to communicate to the workforce in my role as CISA Director, I write this message as a Veteran, and the wife of a Veteran, both of us having served in multiple locations around the world, including Afghanistan.
Throughout our lives we observe and experience events that will ultimately be written about in our history books. Some of these events, such as the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, stand out more than others because they impact us in deeply personal ways.
My husband deployed to Bagram for a year in 2008-2009; I was there for 7 months in 2010-2011, serving in Kabul. Our deployments impacted us in profound but very different ways. My husband grappled with the effects of PTSD upon return; I decided to retire from the Army at the end of my tour, worried that my continued absence from our young son (this was my third combat deployment) would be detrimental to his happiness and sense of security.
Despite that, my husband and I both remain extremely proud of our service, of our contributions to the mission, of the small part we were able to play in bringing peace and security to the Afghan people and to ensuring the defense of our nation. We remain mindful that we join hundreds of thousands of others who have served the nation following the harrowing events of September 11, now almost two decades ago. And mindful that thousands among them – some of them friends and colleagues; classmates and former students – paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation, a sacrifice made to protect and defend not just our Constitution, but our values and beliefs, values that include protecting the most vulnerable, among them the Afghan people, including women, children, and the elderly.
To that end, I’ve found the events of the past week more than heart-breaking – heart-rending, really. I am sure that I am not alone among our veterans – here at CISA, within the Department more broadly, and around the country and the world – asking whether our sacrifices, and the sacrifices of those who gave their lives, were worth anything. These are difficult questions, and there are no easy answers.
As I struggle to come to grips with these questions and the barrage of shocking images presently dominating the news, I am reminded of a story that my father – a veteran of the Vietnam War – told me. Wherever he would travel, he would visit the national monuments, the cemeteries where that country buries its dead – because, as he said, “These tell you everything worth knowing about a country.”
He came across a little cemetery when he served in Vietnam. Buried there were men who died in the French-Indochina War. Each headstone bore an inscription with a name and a date, and the words “Mort pour la France” – Died for France.
In Germany, the words are “Todt fur der Vaterland” – Died for the Fatherland.
In Russia: Died for the Motherland.
In Japan: Died for the Emperor.
In England: For King and Country.
There are no words like that on the stones beneath which our countrymen and women sleep; no sacrifice for king or country. Rather, those we keep in our hearts who made the ultimate sacrifice, made it for the idea on which our country was founded.
They did not go to foreign places to seize the resources of others, or to exploit their labor, or to take their land on our behalf. As General Colin Powell once said: “All we have asked of those for whom we fought was six feet of earth in which to bury our slain.” And for that our sons and daughters gave it all for the idea on which our nation was founded – the most profound idea in human history: the idea that men and women are born free, and by their birth alone entitled to liberty and justice.
The Bible teaches “Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friend.” What then shall we say of a nation that sends its sons and daughters to offer up their blood so that strangers, people they don’t even know, may live in freedom, able to realize the liberty and justice that we consider to be the God-given right of all men and women? Even if that liberty and justice is temporary, it was experienced and cherished by the Afghan people, and those who served should be proud of our service.
So please do remember, as our Deputy Secretary noted yesterday, that you are not alone. Resources both within the Department and in the broader Veterans community include our Employee Assistance Programs which are available 24 hours a day and are confidential, free, and do not affect your security clearance. In addition, the DHS public facing Employee Resources page is full of resources and information to help you and your loved ones deal with stress, mental health, and many other topics; the Mental Health section of the Veteran Resource Center Website on DHS Connect includes additional resources. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 right away.
We serve together to make our nation stronger, in peacetime and in wartime. That is our sacred duty, and we are among a small group of committed individuals willing to take an oath in defense of an idea. That is no small thing.
I thank you for your service to our Agency and to our great nation.