As families across the country celebrated Christmas earlier this week, many of them were without a member who was serving overseas in the military. However, with American forces out of Iraq and the conflict in Afghanistan drawing down, the number of soldiers home for the holidays was at its highest level in at least five years, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
There are currently about 66,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, which means most of the 35,000 soldiers sent there for the 2009 surge have since returned home. While this is a positive step in terms of removing American soldiers from the war-torn country, military officials are still unsure as to what pace the remaining forces will leave in order to be completely withdrawn by the end of 2014.
While there may be more servicemembers home for the holidays than in recent memory, that does not eliminate the fact that many veterans and military families face challenges after combat. During a holiday address, first lady Michelle Obama made sure to mention that they need help, not just during the Christmas season, but during the rest of the year as well.
"Our military families sacrifice so much on our behalf, and Barack and I believe that we should serve them as well as they serve this country," she said. "That's why Dr. Jill Biden and I started Joining Forces – an effort to rally all Americans to honor and support our veterans and military families."
Although there were still some soldiers who did not get to spend the holiday at home, there were a number of charitable efforts aimed at making the season a little merrier for them and their families.
Earlier this month in Manas, Afghanistan, more than 500 deployed troops were treated to the USO Holiday Tour, which featured performances by the likes of comedian Iliza Shlesinger and country star Kellie Pickler. Additionally, MLB stars Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen were there along with pro hockey player Matt Hendricks, reports American Forces Press Service.
"We know that while you may not be with your families back home, you're with your family here," Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia told the crowd, according to the news source. "And that's what's important to us and that's one of the many reasons why we're so proud of each and every one of you."