Originally printed in The Dallas Morning News on November 18, 2019

If Congress acts, we may soon have a Global War on Terror Memorial on the National Mall

Those who have fought in America’s longest war shouldn’t wait any longer for a monument to their sacrifice.
Dallas Morning News Editorial

For the first time in U.S. history, an American war has lasted long enough to see a child born at the start of hostilities reach fighting age. Our military personnel have been in Afghanistan — first with Operation Enduring Freedom, launched less than a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and now with Operation Freedom’s Sentinel — for more than 18 years.

Still, the nearly three million U.S. service members who have deployed in support of the global war on terrorism since 9/11 — whether they served in the villages, cities and battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, or more recently northern Syria and Somalia — do not have a national memorial to call their own.

As we’ve written in the past, this should be rectified as soon as possible. Our nation’s capital needs a Global War on Terrorism Memorial not only so that we, as citizens, have a place to honor and remember the close to 8,500 men and women in uniform who have died in overseas deployments since 9/11, but also to honor the more than 50,000 wounded in action and the estimated 20% of all returning service members who suffer from the invisible wounds of war such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Last week, thanks to the commitment, perseverance, and hard work of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, those who have sacrificed the most in defense of our nation since that terrible September morning may have a suitable memorial on our National Mall in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 12, Reps. Jason Crow, D-Colo., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., both veterans of our post 9/11 wars, introduced legislation in the House proposing three possible locations near the Korean, Vietnam and World War II memorials.

As Gallagher, a veteran of the Iraq War, told Task & Purpose last week, no matter which location is finalized, the National Mall is a “fitting” place because it “honors some of the greatest individuals in our country’s history, from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to those who served in the wars of the 20th century.”

When asked why a memorial is needed now, while the war on terrorism continues in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere, Gallagher replied, “The global war on terrorism is now old enough to vote, and unfortunately, terrorism does not appear to be going anywhere soon. Without action, generations of warriors may never see their service, or the service their fallen brothers and sisters, memorialized in our nation’s capital. We must ensure those who served, and those who continue to serve, in the worldwide fight against terrorism are rightfully honored.”

We couldn’t agree more, and encourage our elected officials in Washington to back Gallagher and Crow’s bipartisan bill and designate an official location for the Global War on Terrorism Memorial.

It should be made clear that once a site is designated, the design and construction of the memorial will not cost American taxpayers a penny — a sign of the times, perhaps, but also a sad irony given the fact that the thousands of men and women it will memorialize gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

Michael “Rod” Rodriguez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Global War on Terrorism Foundation and a veteran of our post-9/11 wars, told us last week that “By building a tangible symbol of the sacrifices made by all who served in the global war on terrorism, we believe the memorial will honor, heal, empower and unite all Americans.” His organization, whose honorary chair is former President George W. Bush, has “set an initial goal of $50 million” to design and build the memorial, all of which will be privately funded by donations.”

Rodriguez, who is also the father of a son who served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, understands better than most the sacrifices made by military personnel and their families since 9/11. “We believe that the selfless service by an all-volunteer group of warriors to defend our nation is the most compelling reason this generation has earned the recognition to stand alongside other major war memorials” on the National Mall, he said.

The fact that today’s military, unlike during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, is an all-volunteer fighting force is another reason to honor the service of those who did and those who didn’t return from Afghanistan, Iraq and all our post-9/11 battlefields.

“Memorials like this help us understand the value of citizenship and a little about sacrifice, I suppose, what one is willing to give to earn and keep it,” Brad Strand, a veteran who re-enlisted after 9/11 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2004-05, told us recently. This is just as important for the civilian population as it is for the military community, explained Strand. Memorials don’t just tell us “these people did so and so on this date,” he said, they “force one to ask why it was done.”

We believe such a memorial should stand on our National Mall, near monuments to our nation’s greatest champions of freedom and those men and women who have fought in defense of that freedom. As for the lawmakers who will have the final decision, we agree with Rodriguez, who told us, simply but eloquently, that “Congress is elected to represent the American people, and we believe the American people support this memorial and recognize it is our duty as a nation to honor all those who have selflessly served in our nation’s longest war.”

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