I spent Mother’s Day in Afghanistan, far from my only child and her two youngsters. But I was in good company. Among the U.S. troops I visited were mothers and grandmothers.
One soldier had given birth just a few months before being deployed, and I realized how tough it was for her to not be with her baby on the holiday.
I thanked her and the other women in the U.S. military for their courage and the sacrifice that they – and their families – are making in service to our nation.
I’m a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and this was the fifth time I’ve visited Afghanistan – where U.S. troops continue to risk their lives in the war on terrorism.
I wanted to check on the well-being of all our troops there, including the 3,062 who are serving with the Ohio National Guard. Ohioans make up nearly one-third of the total of 10,294 Guard troops from the United States, I was told.
En route to Afghanistan, I visited with U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East nation of Qatar – including several Ohioans. I also met with Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Attiya, to talk about U.S-Qatar relations and security issues in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.
I traveled with four other members of Congress, all of whom are women. The role of women in the military was one of the many topics discussed throughout the trip – including during our meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
I and the others in the U.S. delegation suggested to President Karzai that women should be at the table when his nation’s military participated in international talks such as the recent NATO summit in Chicago, where the focus was on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai mentioned that might happen at a follow-up summit in Tokyo in July.
I hope that the rights of Afghan women are preserved after the United States winds down its military presence there.
One concern is that the education of children – both boys and girls – has been hindered by insurgent attacks on schools, some of which have been forced to close. The Afghan government needs educated workers to continue efforts to develop the country’s economy.
“Women’s conditions in comparison to the past have improved significantly,” Mr. Karzai said. “And by providing them educational opportunities, their lives and current conditions can be improved so that they can recognize their rights.”
Another U.S. priority is the building of roads, which are vital to help farmers get produce to markets. But something that we Americans take for granted – traveling on a road – depends on achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Substantial advances have been made since the overthrow of the Taliban and the introduction of democracy in Afghanistan, and I hope these will prove lasting as the United States wraps up its military presence there over the next two years.
While it will be wonderful to have our troops return home, I can tell you that right now they are making a significant contribution to the well-being of the men, women, and children of Afghanistan.
Jean Schmidt is the U.S. Congresswoman serving Ohio’s Second District.