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Idahoans' Steadfast Service

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

President Obama recently announced the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. However, the local contribution to the war effort is not over. As the Idaho National Guard's 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team deploys to Iraq, we cannot lose sight of the continued sacrifice of the men and women in military service, their families and the local employers who await their safe return.

Idaho ranks twelfth among states with the highest National Guard membership based on percentages of the states' populations, and the 116th Cavalry Brigade, headquartered in Boise, is the Idaho National Guard's largest unit. The 116th has a long history of contributing bravely during our nation's times of need. Following the end of World War I, the 116th was formed in 1920 as part of the National Guard's expansion of horse cavalry. Brigade soldiers fought from Normandy to Germany in World War II and served in Bosnia in 2001.

This is the second Iraq deployment for 116th Cavalry Brigade, which deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005 as part of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." The 116th supported Iraqi national elections and assumed responsibility in the Iraqi provinces of Kirkuk and Al-Sulaymaniyah. Approximately 2,700 116th service members are being mobilized for an expected one-year deployment. Thirty-six percent of the current team previously deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The brigade's seasoned soldiers have the strength of experience as they return to Iraq to fulfill the altered Iraq mission through "Operation New Dawn." Their mission has changed, but like other deployments, the difficulty of enduring prolonged time away from home, including missed holidays, birthdays and family events, remains consistent.

Many of the soldiers' family members are familiar with the challenges of carrying out daily activities when a loved one is deployed. National Guard members are fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, siblings, sons and daughters who put their lives on hold to serve our nation. While many of the soldiers and their family members have had months to prepare for this deployment, it is never easy. Spouses, children and other family members of soldiers endure months of tremendous hardship as they complete demanding daily duties without the direct companionship of the deployed while undergoing the stress of missing loved ones in often dangerous conditions. Military spouses maintain the families while bearing the burden of sustained worry. Tremendous amounts of patience, endurance and strength are required to meet this sacrifice.

Additionally, unlike active duty military service members, military service is not a guard member's primary job. In order to deploy, not only are guard members' family lives disrupted, but also their work lives are interrupted. This often creates challenges for employers, especially small businesses with less manpower, as they have an increased burden of making do with less during the deployment. Local businesses make difficult adjustments and often suffer losses as they continue to contribute to the economy despite the absence of valued employees. Similar to the families of service members, employers play an essential supporting role in our nation's effort.

Even with the end of the combat mission in Iraq, Americans continue to serve abroad and leave their loved ones, communities and jobs to fulfill their assignments. When a guard unit deploys, there are families, employers and communities that take on increased responsibilities to support that service member's deployment. As members of the 116th Cavalry Brigade begin their deployment to Iraq and as we pray for their safe return, it is an opportune time to reflect not only on the sacrifices of those individual service members, but also recognize the sacrifices of their family members and employers who sustain the service member and our nation.

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