Young military members training at Fort Lee are the embodiment of America’s hopes and dreams – the vessels bearing the torches of this nation’s most precious ideals and beliefs.

Their deeds in uniform and beyond will give life to the notion of living and breathing in places without fear or tribulation.

They have willingly accepted the challenge to protect the country’s interests, perhaps unaware of the sacrifices it will require or fully comprehending the extent of contributions already made.

Those young minds were shaped in an era far removed from the fight against Nazi Germany and the 400,000 lives lost in that struggle. They couldn’t possibly fathom the true depth of sorrow felt by our nation’s Vietnam War-era veterans when they faced deprecation by some sectors of the American public upon returning home. Their association with suicides, PTSD and the transition struggles of those coming home from current wars is mostly gleaned from media reports and second-hand stories.

What is within the realm of their comprehension is the extent of their forthcoming transformations – how military service wipes away the innocence of youth, imparts a sacred purpose and ushers them into a brotherhood of those sworn to never leave a fallen comrade behind. Through their service, they will become intimate with the congruities of sacrifice and freedom.

Once their uniforms are shed, they will form the newest bricks and mortar resting atop the mighty understructure that is America, having preserved the ideals of democracy while protecting the lives of all who cannot or will not serve. 

Ideally, their experiences will forever change them. Serving in combat or in remote locations will likely provoke contemplation and ever-growing appreciation for freedoms relinquished, and thus, the country in which those freedoms emanated and are sometimes taken for granted.

One needs only to look back at World War II to understand the power of this dynamic. Following the war, veterans by the millions returned to the United States humbled by the preciousness of freedom and the possibility it could be taken away. They came home eagerly armed with ambition, skills and unique experiences that propelled the nation to new heights.

While not as prevalent, the same thing can be seen today. The legacy of military experience is found in the ex-military policeman who mentors underprivileged youth, the former combat medic who volunteers at a free clinic or the combat veteran who supports Habitat for Humanity.

Twenty-six veterans have served as President of the United States. Many thousands have likely served as president of the PTA.

Veterans can confidently lay claim to the mantra of “giving back.”

Needless to say, the service of veterans has been critical to the nation’s survival and progress, yet it offers a legacy that is sometimes overlooked or not fully appreciated. That begs some questions:

When those young military members in training fully attain veteran status, will the country comprehend the extent of their sacrifices?

Will their fellow Americans stand in support of them no matter what the political, economic or social climate is?

Will they be treated with the reverence and respect they so richly deserve?

If history is any indication, sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. It’s an uneasy dilemma for those heeding the calls for future fights, maybe owed to the proclivity on behalf of citizens to forget or disregard the blood spilled by generations of fighting men and women.

At the end of the day, though, one could argue that it does not matter or has not mattered.

There will always be men and women who are willing to become the embodiment of America’s hopes and dreams – the vessels bearing the torches of our most precious ideals and beliefs.