For the first time in eight years, we’ve entered a January without American Soldiers patrolling the streets of Iraq. As the President confirmed last week, our transition in Afghanistan continues and troops will be coming home in the months to come.
Since these wars began, we’ve had more than 47,000 American service members wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. Beside each one is a family impacted by war … a family who helps the wounded overcome their injuries and face the challenges of recovery. Theirs is a heavy burden, yet they face it with dignity, courage and resilience.
Since becoming Secretary of the Army more than two years ago, I’ve visited our wounded heroes and their families at medical facilities at home and abroad. I am always moved and inspired by these great young men and women and their families. They truly represent the strength of our Army and the best of our nation.
This week I visited Brooke Army Medical Center and the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas, where I had the privilege of meeting more troops and their families and awarding the Purple Heart Medal to a number of these heroes. The Purple Heart is our nation’s oldest continuously awarded military decoration, and ironically, one that probably no one sets out to earn.
I had the solemn honor of awarding the Purple Heart to nine soldiers yesterday. One of them, Pfc. Charles Ligon, from West Frankfort, Ill., had recently returned from Afghanistan. He had suffered severe burns and other significant injuries including an amputation to his left leg after his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device during a patrol with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
Like so many who’ve joined our ranks in recent years, Pfc. Ligon was just a boy when terrorists attacked our nation a decade ago. He grew up in a time of war and volunteered to serve knowing what that could mean. As I spoke with his mother, Susanne Willmore, I was struck by how proud she was that her son had made that choice two years ago to join the Army, and how determined she was to help him persevere and recover from his injuries. Family members are an integral part of our Soldiers’ recovery.
A short walk from the hospital complex is the Center for the Intrepid, an impressive rehabilitation facility with state-of-the-art equipment. However, more remarkable than the structure are the young men and women who walk through its doors each day. Their tireless work to recover from the severe wounds of war is simply inspirational. The price of liberty is steep, but the men and women I met exemplify courage, strength and the triumph of the American spirit.
Throughout our history, our freedoms have been bought through the sacrifice and selfless service of men and women like PFC Ligon – ordinary Americans inspired to extraordinary service, and who are now rising to meet new challenges.
As our brave men and women return home from war, recognize the small purple ribbon so many have earned. It is a symbol of their courage, service and sacrifice to our nation, but it also represents the sacrifice their families have made on our behalf.