Military spouse day honors heroes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Each year at the end of May, people across the country pause to honor the men and women who have died protecting our nation, but Memorial Day is not the only day in May in which Americans can honor those who have served our country.

Military Spouse Day was recently observed, with the wives and husbands of our men and women in uniform being recognized and thanked for their sacrifices and service to our country.

Military Spouse Day may not be as well known as other days of observance, but it is a special day that rightfully honors a different kind of American hero. It represents an opportunity for our nation to collectively recognize the contributions that hundreds of thousands of military spouses have made and will continue to make on behalf of our country.

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History of military spouse day

President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation that observed the first Military Spouse Day on May 23, 1984. The following year, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger established the Friday before Mother’s Day as Military Spouse Day.

The spouses of American service members have long been noted for their contributions, dating back to colonial Americans’ fight for independence. General George Washington’s wife, Martha, boosted the morale of her husband’s troops by visiting battlefields and caring for wounded soldiers. Since then, countless Americans have followed in her footsteps, providing unending love and support for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who serve our nation.

Patriotism runs high in Mississippi. Mississippians have always been proud of the number of our sons and daughters who serve our country in the military. Since 2001, we have been reminded of that service time and time again by the dozens of send-off ceremonies for Mississippi units. Along with my wife Gayle — herself a former military spouse — I have had the opportunity to attend many of those ceremonies, most recently for the National Guard’s 155th Brigade. In addition to giving our troops the praise and appreciation they deserve, I also have made a point to thank the family members for their sacrifice and contributions.

Power behind the power

Speaking to a group of military spouses at the White House last year on Military Spouse Day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “You do not do this only for your loved ones who are serving and sacrificing in distant lands, but for your entire community and for our country. Your dedication, compassion and selflessness play a vital role in uplifting spirits, and our nation is deeply in your debt.”

Secretary Gates may have summed it up best when he later went on to describe military families as “the power behind the power.”

In addition to enduring the sleepless nights, periods of raising children alone, and other significant challenges, military spouses are also committed volunteers. Many of these dedicated individuals choose to help other military families, as well as those in need around the world. Examples of these efforts that have recently been recognized include creating newsletters to update the families of deployed personnel; providing free diapers, formula, clothing and toys to military families; collecting and distributing more than a million phone cards to service members; and sending more than five tons of supplies to Iraqi and Afghan children.

The next time you see someone whose husband or wife is in the military, I encourage you to thank them for their courage and sacrifice. Their loved ones are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, but spouses also make an enormous sacrifice.

Military spouses may not make up the “boots on the ground” in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world, but by making enormous sacrifices and providing love and support to our service members, they provide an invaluable service to our country. Military Spouse Day is an important way for our country to thank them.

Roger Wicker is a U.S. Senator representing Mississippi.