John Florez: Find room for our troops at the inn

Published: Saturday, Dec. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

A soldier gestures from the gun turret of the last vehicle in a convoy of the US Army's 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division crosses the border from Iraq into Kuwait, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. The brigade's special troops battalion are the last American soldiers to leave Iraq. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Maya Alleruzzo, AP

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What Joseph and Mary may have experienced when they were told there was no room at the inn is well-understood by many of our troops who are coming home this Christmas.

For many of our service men and women there is no room at the inn, in the sense that they have no place to land, no job waiting for them, no educational opportunities calling out in need of their service, and for some no home. There may be mounting bills and unfinished projects from when they left to serve our country, but upon their return, many are forgotten, homeless, injured, and left to wander.

Today, we say we are thankful for the sacrifices of the men and women who volunteered to serve our country, but at times the words ring hollow. They were the 1 percent of us who volunteered to serve. Because there is no draft requiring people to serve in the military, few of us experienced the pain of having one of our loved ones prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

In past wars, families worried about the loss of their loved ones and were proud to have them serve. Banners with stars were displayed in the windows of those families who had a member in the service. There was a sense of community, of knowing we were all making a sacrifice, that we had a common cause, the preservation of our nation.

Welcoming home our troops has always been a joyous occasion. After WWII, we had a feeling of gratitude and exuberance as we embraced the return of our troops. They came home and our nation welcomed them with open arms and helped them make the transition from the armed services to civilian life. Our nation mobilized and created the GI Bill that allowed them to complete their education, find employment and buy their first home. They came home with the same values that compelled them to join the service — patriotism, duty to country and a willingness to sacrifice for the common good. The nation's commitment to help them was an economic boon for our nation and an opportunity for our service men and women to thrive and contribute to the nation's welfare. Our nation kept its commitment to those who gave so much to our country.

As we bask in the warmth and glow of sharing Christmas Eve with our loved ones, let us reflect upon the meaning of Christmas and the homecoming of our troops. For many of us, Christmas is about loving, sharing, and giving thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us. We are thankful our troops are coming home; for those who have loved ones among them, it's a joyous day. For those that did not come home, let us honor and pray for them and their families.

Let us give thanks to our troops, and recommit ourselves to press our elected officials to reaffirm our nation's commitment to keep our word in helping our veterans by reinstating the benefits given to veterans of past wars. Our nation, and each of us has a moral responsibility to do all we can to help our men and women come home and rebuild their lives. They were there for us and now we must be there for them.

Through the kindness of the innkeeper, Joseph and Mary found a place in the stable for baby Jesus to be born and for the light to come into the world. Let each of us be that light as we honor all our troops.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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