BRAD WENSTRUP
Remembering our heroes this holiday

Brad Wenstrup
As the holidays approach, many of us look forward to the same things. We will gather with friends and family to share gifts. We will hug loved ones who we aren’t able to see very often, and fondly remember those who have passed on. We will bundle up in coats and scarves and walk around our neighborhoods to see the Christmas lights. We will squeeze together in pews for crowded candlelight Christmas Eve services. For the Wenstrup clan, it’s always been a tradition to spend Christmas Eve at grandma and grandpa’s house, exchanging gifts there with them, our siblings, and the grandkids. Christmas music will be playing in the background. Occasionally we’ll all sing along — “I’ll be Home for Christmas” is a family favorite. All the while, the small children anticipate Santa’s arrival that night, always hoping for snow to fall.

Yet for many families across our country, the holiday season means something different. It means a loved one absent, serving overseas. It means memories missed. A Skype call instead of a hug. A missing place setting. An empty chair at the dining room table. All tangible reminders of the sacrifices made by the men and women in uniform who are far from home at this time of year. Even those who are fortunate to be home with their families this year may remember holidays spent far away from their families in the past. Eyes grow misty remembering fellow servicemembers who never came home.

I firmly believe there is no higher calling for those of us here at home than to defend our defenders. The men and women of our Armed Forces answer the call to protect and defend this nation. It’s not just a duty – but an honor – to have their backs here at home. So this year, as we celebrate the joy and peace of the season, let’s pause and remember all of our troops who are still serving overseas and separated from loved ones this holiday. I had the opportunity to share a message about this recently, which you can watch on my Facebook page.

The following resources provide opportunities to show gratitude for the men and women who put service above self, and sacrifice so much to defend our freedoms –

Send a Message to Our Troops. Writing a letter or sending a message online is a great way to show your appreciation for servicemembers. The Department of Defense lists a variety of organizations that can help facilitate this. For some, you can post a message of support to a particular region, as well as read other messages of support in your area.

Send a Care Package. Although it’s too late to send a care package that will make it overseas by this Christmas, these packages can bring cheer to our troops throughout the entire year. The Department of Defense has provided this list of organizations that arrange care packages to be sent to troops overseas throughout the year. Consider sending a care package as a way for your family to start off the new year.

Volunteer to Help Veterans. If you’d like to give of your time and talents over the holidays to support and care for our veterans, simply fill out a volunteer application to be contacted by a local Veterans’ Affairs Voluntary Service representative. There is no better way to celebrate the holidays than by serving others.

This Christmas season, I hope you will join me in reflecting on the ways we can take action to show gratitude for the men and women who wear this country’s uniform and sacrifice so much so that we might live in freedom and in peace. Let’s keep those who are far from home and in harm’s way in our prayers. Let’s pause in gratitude for the many tables where a place setting will be skipped tonight at dinner and a chair will be empty. Because not only do their sacrifices make this country great, they keep this country free.