Are we making a difference?

WHITEMAN AFB, MO -- I returned home in May 2005, after 379 days deployed in the Horn of Africa.

It was a long year, and there were many times I wondered whether what we were doing
was making a difference.

The poverty was unimaginable, the living conditions unbearable, and the threat of
Islamic terrorists reestablishing their Talibanlike terrorist training camps in Somalia
was a strong possibility.

Month after month, we worked and nothing changed.

The news told us we were losing and we might as well come home; we could never
succeed.

On a day like any other in early February, as we were about to begin our staff meeting,
the master gunnery sergeant brought in a big box of donations from appreciative
Americans.

Their gifts were wrapped in individual baggies, with lots of candy and a card in each.

By sheer luck (or blessing), I got a baggie of candy that also contained the following letter:

Dear Soldier,
I am writing to you today because 60 years ago brave soldiers just like you saved my
life, my family's life and my country. Germany was destroyed under Hitler's brutal dictatorship and heinous missions.

Then the barbaric Russian troops knocked at our doors.

Resistance of any kind in either situation resulted in sure death. There was no place to hide.

We were rescued by the United States troops. Courageous soldiers, just like you,
armed with weapons, artillery and heavy equipment stopped the madness of the war and aided in the rebuilding of the infrastructure for a new Germany.

The U.S. troops brought us freedom, showed us the way to democracy and the good life.

I was 8 years old then and today, 60 years later, my family and I are grateful. We, and the country of Germany, owe you a tremendous respect.

So, sometimes when you feel discouraged and ask "Why am I here?" or "Will our efforts
make a difference?" remember this letter. Freedom and democracy will prevail.

This will be true for the people and the countries you are assisting now. It will take time, but they will benefit from your efforts and live a good life just like I have been privileged to live because of brave soldiers like you.

We are forever grateful and in your debt.

Christel Trusty and Family

What an eye-opener. It was as if Mrs. Trusty had read my mind and written her letter
directly to me.

She gave me a new perspective of how history would view our efforts, rather than just the "daily news cycle" view. She reminded me that we've been through all of this before, and we were successful.

She harkened back to the era of George C. Marshall, when great people won Nobel Peace Prizes for conquering brutal dictators and helping the oppressed arise from their
nightmares.

Mostly, though, she reminded me of the power of an individual committed to cause.

Her letter was not written to "the American people" or the government of the United
States. It was addressed to an individual soldier.

It did not laud the efforts of nameless, faceless entities like a government or army; it
thanked individuals who put aside their safe and comfortable lives to save people they never met.

You now continue the legacy of those American soldiers that freed Mrs. Trusty and the
rest of Europe in World War II.

You volunteered to serve in a military at war, to put aside the comforts afforded by a
strong and free nation, and to dedicate yourselves to a higher calling.

You shoulder the burden of war so that oppressed people in far-away lands can have a new birth of freedom.

As we continue to deploy around the world, fighting the newest iteration of the same old
hateful ideology, remember the people are watching you.

As you look at an 8-year-old African girl, will she be writing a letter to your grandchildren in 60 years that starts with "Dear Soldier...?"

As you look at a young Iraqi boy, will you unknowingly be responsible for him living into adulthood - because you prevented a terrorist from strapping a bomb to his body and
killing him and countless other innocent civilians?

Yes, 379 days deployed in the Horn of Africa was a long time.

But I no longer wonder if we're making a difference ...