We are one month away from the 10-year anniversary of the worst attack in our country's history, and many Americans will mark the occasion with reflection. The sense of real fear sparked by the attacks on Sept. 11 has largely faded from memory for most Americans.
Trepidation has evaporated because we have not been attacked on the same horrific scale, and Americans will sleep peacefully at night, due largely to the efforts of a handful of "rough men" who are "waging violence" on their behalf — hunting down hard-core al-Qaida and Taliban extremists. The modern-day equivalent of the 300 Spartans who defended Greece and ideals of Western democracy at Thermopylae are the Special Operations Forces. These forces constitute a small fraction of the overall number of American armed forces but have disproportionately shouldered the burden of taking the fight to our enemies.
For most Americans, the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are distant distractions. Many question why we are still there. Calls to bring our troops home have escalated steadily since the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was finally brought to justice by Navy SEALs on April 30.
That operation was the culmination of thousands of special operations but came at a tremendous cost to the elite force that killed high-value target No. 1.
By the eve of that historic raid, more than 40 Navy SEALs had paid the ultimate sacrifice since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. After last weekend's Army Chinook helicopter crash, the number of SEALs killed in action totals more than 60. Considering our Navy commandos number only 2,500, the impact of this loss is devastating to the tight-knit SEAL community in which all of us have served alongside frogman brothers who have given their last full measure.
Killed in the deadliest incident of our nation's longest conflict were 30 servicemen, including SEALs, Afghan commandos, Air Force pararescue, and the Army air crew. This combined quick-reaction force had come to the rescue of Army Rangers pinned down by a larger enemy force. These men honored the warrior's ethos immortalized in the Rangers' Creed, which states, "I will never leave a fallen comrade."
Has the rest of America, especially those who have never served, demonstrated similar commitment or support for the 6,136 veterans (all volunteers) whose ultimate sacrifice has protected our shores since 9/11? During the past decade, most Americans have lived without fear and largely any measure of shared sacrifice that these heroes and their surviving loved ones have had to endure.
As the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, every American should evaluate what he or she can do to support our veterans, and more importantly the families of the fallen. You don't have to be a member of the military to serve those who do. Volunteer like they did. Spend time helping at military-connected organizations, or donate to charities that take care of our defenders and their families.
As former commander in chief and President Calvin Coolidge once stated, "The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten." For those of us who have served, saying "thank you" is more than just putting an "I support the troops" bumper sticker on your car.
Dan O'Shea is a SEAL commander in the Reserves, and a veteran of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. O'Shea is the founder and chairman of the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim, www.tampabayfrogman.com, that raises funds for the Navy SEAL Foundation, www.nswfoundation.org.