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Commentary: Honoring our nation's veterans is important

Since Sept. 11, 2001, almost 8,000 Minnesota National Guard soldiers and airmen have served on active duty supporting operations in more than 30 countries around the world. Minnesota has an average deployment rate of about 60 percent, leading the nation in recruitment and retention, while both Air National Guard units are at over 100 percent of their authorized strength. The courage and dedication these men and women exhibit is truly commendable. This Veterans Day, be sure to remember their service and sacrifices in defense of our nation.

Currently, 1,500 Minnesota National Guard soldiers are mobilized -- 150 in the United States and 1,350 overseas in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Guam and Qatar. Nationally, 170,000 soldiers are deployed in Southwest Asia (Kuwait and other areas of the region supporting operations in Iraq).

The Guard and Reserve soldiers serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan are unique. These soldiers tend to be older than the ones who fought in Vietnam when men were drafted after high school or college -- the average age of the Army Reserve's enlisted soldier is 31 and many have left young families behind. Guard and Reserve members serve proudly with wholehearted support from their families. Even so, their absence demands sacrifice in their homes, workplaces, churches and communities.

The families of these soldiers are more isolated than the families of active-duty soldiers who tend to live on or near military bases.

Presently, there is an ongoing and structural support system in place to effectively help our citizen soldiers and their families who find themselves engaged in long-term military commitments. However, there are limits to what state-level officials can do to help Minnesota soldiers when they are called up on a federal mission. Regardless, the state does have an important role to play in supporting the morale of these soldiers and their families during this time of uncertainty and transition.

As in the wars of our historical past, many soldiers serving in our current conflict have unfortunately died during their service to our nation. American deaths since the global war on terrorism began on March 19, 2003, are approximately 2,000 (1,500 of whom died in combat). Another 14,000 have been wounded.

This Veterans Day, remember and honor these men and women. All who have served in our military deserve our utmost respect and gratitude for their sacrifices on our behalf. Our state and nation rely on their abilities to overcome tremendous obstacles in defense of freedom.

Let's make sure they are aware of our appreciation this Veterans Day.

Dean Johnson is the state senator for District 13.