War means sacrifice, and this war is no different. As our brave soldiers battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, they leave their families behind, risking their lives each day in our name. We ask them to fight for us, to imperil life and limb, to serve our nation with honor. Our fighting men and women endure great sacrifices for America, and so it is reasonable to ask what sacrifices other Americans are making.
The answer does not always satisfy. Our wars are national conflicts; we are all Americans and we are all in this together. But why then is it so easy for the rest of us - those who aren't soldiers or their family members - to go about our lives as normal?
It is not for lack of opportunity to do otherwise. While our soldiers are fighting and dying, every American on the homefront can do something, however big or small, to support our national effort.
At this time of sacrifice it is more important than ever to join as fellow Americans in a national cause greater than the sum of our everyday routines.
Here, then, are 10 things that ordinary Americans can do, wherever they are.
1. Help our troops directly. The website www.americansupportsyou.mil
lists over 150 non-profit organizations dedicated to helping America's soldiers and their families. There you'll find ways to send care packages, donate frequent flyer miles to help reunite returning soldiers with their families, support scholarship funds, or help out in almost any way conceivable. You can even send an e-mail message of support to the troops serving abroad.
2. Assist the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Organizations like Spirit of America (www.spiritofamerica.net
) and Operation Iraqi Children (www.operationiraqichildren.org
) bring goods to local people in Iraq and Afghanistan - everything from school and medical supplies to sewing machines to toys. Local civic groups, like the Lions Club, can get involved too, sponsoring drives to send goods to a particular town in Iraq or Afghanistan that may need them. Doing this helps our troops succeed in their missions, while assisting people in those countries who have suffered terribly under their past regimes.
3. Volunteer at a Fisher House for injured soldiers. Fisher Houses are facilities that serve as a "home away from home" for thousands of military families across the country. Located on the grounds of every major military medical center, they enable family members to be close to the wounded during their hospitalization. As war veterans rebuild their bodies and their lives, the presence of their loved ones is absolutely invaluable.
4. Visit injured troops in local hospitals. Whether it's July 4th, Thanksgiving, or simply a day off, many recuperating soldiers welcome visitors - especially soldiers who do not have family in the area.
5. Learn more about the lives of American soldiers. Make an appointment to visit a local base and talk with a solider about life in the service. Local town councils and other groups can partner with bases to host soldiers for small talks about life as a soldier - a form of national service with which not every citizen is well acquainted.
6. Assist the family of a soldier who has been killed or wounded. With the sacrifice that these families endure, everyone should find a way to help.
This possibilities range from the very simple - help brighten their day with a visit or help with chores - to slightly more organized. For example, sports venues could sponsor special events, or businesses, hotels and individuals in resort communities could sponsor military family weekends.
7. Work on a support network for Guard and Reserve families. The families of active duty troops often know others with members overseas, and have something of a support network, difficult though it may be to deal with prolonged absences. But the strain on Guard and Reserve families can be even greater, since there are often few similar families in the area in which to rely. If you know a family like this, you can help these folks while their loved ones are overseas, whether it means assisting with a job, doing repairs around their house, or simply being available in times of need.
8. Start a children's letter-writing campaign in classrooms. Many of these campaigns are ongoing throughout the country, and they are a great way of reminding our soldiers overseas that all Americans, of all ages, stand with them. Having children express in a creative way their thanks and support also reminds them that many thousands of people have chosen to serve a national cause greater than their immediate self-interest.
9. Participate in a federal service program. CitizensCorps, established by the federal government after the September 11 attacks, helps coordinate volunteer activities that make our communities better able to deal with any emergency. Whether you are in the medical field, wish to be a volunteer firefighter, or are simply an average citizen who wants to assist where you are most needed, there are innumerable ways to serve your community.
Similarly, SeniorCorps is a government program that connects volunteers over age 55 with various projects, ranging from safety patrols for local police departments, to tutoring for children with special needs, to help for homebound seniors so that they can maintain independence in their own homes.
You can find these and other service programs at www.cns.gov
10. Enlist in the military or long-term national service program. We are now at a critical crossroads in our nation's history. Our aspiration is to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, to safeguard the security and liberty of America, and to help spread freedom and democracy where human rights are lacking. We compel no one to serve in furtherance of the rights we believe are inalienable; in our country you are free to care or not care for your birthright.
But the richest men and women possess nothing of real value if their lives have no greater object than themselves. Sacrifice for a cause greater than self-interest, however, and you invest your life with the eminence of that cause.
There are few greater ways of infusing your life with meaning than by spending two or more years in the service of your nation. The military obviously forms an exceptional way to serve America and our ideals, but it is not the only route. The Peace Corps and AmeriCorps also provide excellent and fulfilling ways to serve.
This war imposes great demands on America and as Americans we all must respond. The United States has never won a war as discrete individuals. We have succeeded by marshalling the brave and determined energies of all our countrymen and women, together in the common cause of liberty. That is how a free society remains free and achieves greatness.
I urge every American to choose from the menu of options I have laid out here, or to choose something else entirely. The forms of service and sacrifice are limited only by our creativity. But do choose. Sacrificing will serve the war effort and help our fellow citizens directly, and it will make our patriotism real, to our benefit and our country's.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, and a former presidential candidate. You may contact him through his website, mccain.senate.gov.