This Thanksgiving, remember our troops

Vet: Afghanistan was abyss of the unknown
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  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: This Thanksgiving we should remember our troops' sacrifices
  • Many risk their lives and spend extended time away from loved ones, she says

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a CNN contributor and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield." The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)This Thanksgiving, it is not enough just to thank our troops for their service. Let's take time to think about them, their families and the wars this nation is asking them to fight.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
America is still engaged in post-9/11 wars. And they are not ramping down. Indeed, two numbers that came to light this week made that clear and give us something to reflect on this Thanksgiving as we sit down for turkey and time with our families.
"Number of US troops + DOD civilians in Middle East grew from 40,517 to 54,180 in past 4 mos, according to new DOD data," Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at Chatham House, shared on Twitter. His numbers came from the latest Department of Defense quarterly personnel report.
    "US military presence in Middle East grew by 33%."
    And it is not just the Middle East that is seeing a boost in troops but also Somalia.
    These post-9/11 conflicts remain unresolved. They continue to engage the US military, and to affect the American public, even though they make headlines only rarely.
    The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted in a recent speech that "as we gather tonight there's about 275,000 (service members) that are forward deployed and forward engaged, and some of them are in harm's way."
    Indeed, our nation just marked a grim milestone: For the first time in more than a half-decade, "the number of US troops killed in overseas operations has increased over the previous year," according to Army Times. Thirty-one service members have died so far this year; that is up from 26 in 2016.
    It is not only that danger is faced. But milestones are missed. Service members are away from their homes and loved ones, missing holidays, birthdays, anniversaries -- family gatherings many Americans take for granted. The military families group Blue Star Families reported last week that among the military families who took their survey, about a third said they had dealt with family separation for at least four years since 9/11. Forty percent said they had faced more than six months of family separation just in the past year and a half.
    "High rates of family separation continue. Time away from family surpassed pay and benefits as top concern for military families," the survey report said. "Nearly half (46%) of military family respondents ranked time away from family as their top concern."
    I asked military families groups what they wanted to tell America this Thanksgiving, and they told me two words: Remember us.
    "Even though we are not at the height of a war, service members are still separated from families and it continues. Families are getting really frustrated," says Joyce Wessel Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. "When Iraq and Afghanistan were at their peak, we expected it. But now we are just in this continued uncertain environment, and nobody else outside the military is really noticing this pace of deployment. People are saying, 'We are tired of this.' "
    And America can do more to help.

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    "As far as our military families are concerned, we are still a nation at war," Raezer says. "It has been a long war, people are tired, and what military families need from all Americans are support in the workplace of military spouses, support in schools where military kids go to school, support for our recently transitioned military families and just an awareness that our military is still a very busy military facing very dangerous situations."
    As you sit down with family this Thanksgiving, give a moment to all who won't get to experience time with their loved ones. And another moment to stay engaged with America's wars, the people who are fighting them and every husband, wife, daughter, son and parent who supports them all year long as they serve their nation.