- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2015

President Obama used the Memorial Day holiday to remind Americans that it’s the first such annual observance since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that U.S. combat troops aren’t fighting a major war on distant battlefields.

“For many of us, this Memorial Day is especially meaningful,” Mr. Obama told a crowd of about 5,000 at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday. “It is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end. Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”

The administration has delayed plans to draw down U.S. forces from Afghanistan, keeping a contingent of about 9,800 troops in there until sometime next year to train Afghan forces amid continued security concerns.

And in Iraq, Mr. Obama is resisting calls to send more troops to train and advise Iraq forces besieged by the Islamic State guerrilla army.

The president said U.S. troops are still in harm’s way, in spite of the official end of America’s combat role in the war in Afghanistan.

“This may be the first Memorial Day since the end of our war in Afghanistan, but we are acutely aware as we speak, our men and women in uniform still stand watch, still serve and still sacrifice around the world,” he said. “Several years ago, we had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. We’ll continue to bring them home, and reduce our forces further down to an embassy presence by the end of next year. But Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place. As so many families know, our troops continue to risk their lives for us.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who introduced the president at Arlington, said nearly 200,000 U.S. service members are stationed overseas on this Memorial Day.

“Troops of such caliber demand great leaders, and there’s no doubt they have one in our commander-in-chief,” Mr. Carter said. “He cares deeply about the safety, welfare and dignity of our men and women in uniform and their families.”

Earlier, the president placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, also paid tribute on Memorial Day to America’s service members “who gave their lives so we could live ours in peace.”

“They defeated fascism in Europe and imperialism in the Pacific,” Mr. Miller said. “They countered communism in Korea and Vietnam. And today, they fight Islamic extremism. They have made America a beacon of hope for countless people around the world and a place we are proud to call home.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the act of remembrance should be a yearlong devotion.

“And what of next week, and next month? What should we do then?” he said. “Remember. Take a moment to think of those who did not survive their wounds, who did not return home.”

Mr. Obama said the holiday is a time to honor those Americans who have given their lives since 9/11, including more than 2,200 who died in Afghanistan. He said Arlington is “is a reflection of America itself.”

“It’s a reflection of our diversity — men and women of all backgrounds, all races and creeds and circumstances and faiths, willing to defend and die for the ideals that bind us as one nation,” Mr. Obama said.

The president also met Monday with Gold Star families, who have lost a loved one in service to the country. He said they represent “the best of who we are.”

“Most Americans don’t fully see, don’t fully understand the sacrifice made by the 1 percent who serve in this all-volunteer armed forces — a sacrifice that preserves the freedoms we too often take for granted,” Mr. Obama said. “Few know what it’s like to take a bullet for a buddy, or to live with the fact that he or she took one for you. But our Gold Star families, our military families, our veterans — they know this, intimately.”

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