As a Marine serving a year-long deployment in Helmand province, Afghanistan, there are so many things that I miss about my home in Jacksonville, N.C. But I am just one of many service members who will not be spending the holidays with loved ones back home. For many Marines here, this is their third, fourth or fifth deployment — others have deployed even more. We chose to join the military to answer a calling to serve our fellow Americans or to make a difference in the world, despite the sacrifices required to do so.
Being so far from home this holiday season, I look to the United States, and I am saddened, not because times are difficult, but because our nation is too great to suffer so. Americans have a strength born from overcoming adversity and creating opportunity where there was none before, and the challenges we face today are no different — if we can come together to serve each other.
Many people are outraged at the economic condition of the nation, and groups are embroiled in the blame game that’s dividing America. But rather than trying to find someone to blame — whether it’s Wall Street, the government or the wealthy — it’s time to focus on the more important issue of working our way out of the challenges we’re facing.
I’m sure we can all agree that the federal deficit of $15 trillion is far too great, and we should continue to hold our elected officials accountable to find solutions. But, in the interim, there are serious problems impacting communities across the nation that we can address by working together.
The most troubling problem for me, as a mother, is the plight of child hunger in the United States. It’s difficult to imagine that a nation as prosperous as America even has a hunger problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service has found that 14.5% (17.2 million) of U.S. households had a “limited or uncertain ability” to acquire nutritionally adequate and safe food at some time during 2010. The majority of these households met this challenge by eating less varied diets or turning to federal food programs or community food pantries where available. But 6.4 million of these households in 2010 did not have enough money or other resources at times to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways — that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing or other coping strategies.
(PHOTOS: Marines’ Tattoos in Marjah, Afghanistan)
Adequate food is a fundamental necessity, but it’s difficult to obtain without money, which points to another challenge afflicting America: unemployment and poverty. In early December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the unemployment rate at 8.6%, more than 13 million people, of which 5.7 million have been unemployed 27 weeks or more.
Like many problems our nation faces, these may seem insurmountable, but we can each do something small to help our neighbors get back on track. First, I would encourage everyone to buy American products when possible to help American businesses prosper and to promote job growth.
I also encourage people to support local programs, either through donations or by volunteering their time. For example, you could organize a winter coat drive to collect unwanted coats, like the ones your children have outgrown but are still in good condition. You could also find something you are passionate about, like improving education, and volunteer your support at a school that needs help. If politics is your passion, run for local elected positions or look for appointed positions where your experience and expertise can benefit others.
As a Marine in Helmand province, I have seen our Marines and sailors do amazing things to rid the area of insurgents and enable Afghan forces to assume responsibility of security, but we are successful because we work together as a team. Likewise, American history is filled with examples of people coming together to overcome challenges and strengthen our nation. So this holiday season, instead of pointing fingers and engaging in activities that divide America, perhaps we can begin anew to focus that energy to overcome our challenges through teamwork and dedication. Working together is not a seasonal activity, and neither are the challenges we face.