The best we have

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 22, 2005

One of my earliest memories is of my mother and me standing on our front porch waiting for the school bus to pull up.

Mom would straighten my collar, place her hand on my shoulder, and hand me a small lunch box.

Then she’d say, &uot;You go give the best you have, Randy.&uot;


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Through the years I’ve learned the value of the advice she gave me all those years ago.

With Memorial Day around the corner, a time when we remember excellence in our fallen soldiers, I am proud to have Fort Lee, home of the Army Quartermaster Corps in my district. From mortuary affairs, to petroleum transportation, to food services, to field services, to supply logistics, excellence runs a straight and clear course through Fort Lee.

And, under the careful leadership of past commanders like LTG Billy Solomon and MG Terry Juskowiak, and current commanders MG Ann Dunwoody and BG Scott West, Fort Lee in the last several years has matured and grown. Through round after round of BRAC, Fort Lee has layered its defenses, built its infrastructure, and grown its mission.

It is a place where people give the best they have to give.

It is the best of the best.

That is why, even when our nation is at war, when the budget heat in Washington is steadily rising, and with the final and definitive round of BRAC sending waves across the nation’s military installations and surrounding communities, the federal government has seen fit to put over $100 million of investment in Fort Lee. While other bases were standing still, holding their breath and hoping to hold their own through BRAC, Fort Lee has been bustling with activity and growth.

In each corner of the installation, there is evidence of this expansion from housing revitalization to the fire and emergency services center, from the new MEPS center and the new aerial delivery school to joint training exercises.

As they say, &uot;If you build it, they will come.&uot; Within the year, new units will come to Fort Lee bringing over a thousand additional soldiers to be trained on its grounds and to follow in its tradition of excellence.

And, with last Friday’s BRAC announcement, Fort Lee stands on the verge of nearly doubling its assigned personnel and bringing in an additional 4,425 indirect non-governmental base support and service industry jobs in the region for a total net gain of 11,769 jobs moving into the area, the largest military personnel gains of any installation in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But just as Fort Lee strengthens and expands its mission, I am reminded that Fort Lee is only as strong as those individuals who serve and train on post. Several months ago, I attended the funeral of a young soldier from the Fourth District who died in Iraq just weeks before he was scheduled to return to the US to see his young wife and daughter.

A couple of days before he died, the solider had written to his wife saying how he couldn’t wait to see her and their young daughter, how much he cherished them and missed them.

However, he closed by saying that no matter how much he loved them, he knew the sacrifices he and his fellow soldiers were making were worth it – even for those that paid the highest price.

The soldier’s funeral was held on a crisp winter day, the sun shone and flags snapped in the cool wind.

Cars lined the dusty dirt roads to a small country church that held his flag-draped casket.

Lines of people in respectful silence softly spilled out of the church, into the parking lot where televisions had been set up to watch the funeral.

Some of those who came were family, some were friends, others acquaintances, but many were strangers. Hundreds came, one by one, tears in their eyes, to honor a man they had not known, but one they knew had given the best he had to give.

When I think about why we are proud, I come back to this day again and again in my mind.

I think of the memories and faithful devotion of the families of our lost soldiers, the loving hands that place poppies on graves in military cemeteries, the neatly-folded flags displayed proudly in living rooms across the Nation.

These fallen soldiers are the best our Nation had to offer.

In them were the hopes and dreams of their families and the unlimited potential of the future.

They gave themselves for the cause of freedom. Without our fallen heroes, our Nation and our history would be forever altered. Without the heroes of Bunker Hill and Lexington and Yorktown, we might still be a British colony. Without the heroes at Omaha Beach and Okinawa, the world would be dramatically different. Today, without the heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan, those nations would not know democracy. Each war, each battle, each individual act of bravery has collectively strengthened and fortified what was once a fledgling democracy.

They have formed a tapestry of freedom that embraces each of us, that keeps us strong, that keeps us free, and that encourages us to give the best we have.

So today, as I write this, I think back to my mother standing on our front porch.

For those of us who have watched Fort Lee grow, who have put our sweat and toil into her, we look proudly at her future.

She has a bright future – not just in BRAC, not just for Virginia, and not just for logistics.

Fort Lee will lead a nation of soldiers-a nation of soldiers who each represent the best America can give.

For that we are deeply grateful, and deeply proud.

J. Randy Forbes represents the Fourth Congressional District, which includes Suffolk.