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Ms. ERNST. Madam President, I thank my colleague from North Carolina for joining us to talk about our veterans and about how important they are.
North Carolina, of course, is home to many of our Active-Duty installations, which house many of our brave, young men and women from across the United States. Many Iowans will travel to the great Fort Bragg or other installations and call North Carolina home at least for a short while. So thanks to my colleague for joining us today.
Thanksgiving dinner has become the single most celebrated meal of the year, with tens of millions of Americans gathering with family and friends to give thanks for their blessings and, of course, for one another. And, folks, I know that this year, it is a lot different.
While we still have so much to be thankful for, the COVID-19 pandemic means folks will be traveling less and might not be celebrating in larger groups. As a result, many will be separated from their loved ones on this very special day.
But, folks, this is a very familiar feeling for anyone who has ever served in our Nation's Armed Forces. There is no vacation from protecting our Nation. At any given moment, thousands of men and women, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, are stationed around the world, standing vigilant in the defense of freedom.
Those wearing the uniform aren't the only ones making a sacrifice, either. Back home, there is an empty seat at the family table. There are kids missing their mom or dad, as my daughter missed me while I was deployed. Parents are missing a child, and husbands and wives are missing a spouse.
Due to COVID, many who are stationed in the United States can't even travel home to be with their families. My own daughter will not be able to travel over Thanksgiving. Restrictions have been put in place prohibiting nonessential travel to or from many military installations, including Camp Dodge in my home State of Iowa. But every day, not just Thanksgiving, can be a sacrifice when serving in the Armed Forces. Those who enlist are well aware of this. Yet it is no deterrent.
As a combat veteran with over 23 years of service between the Army Reserves and the Iowa Army National Guard, I understand what many families are going through, and I have a deep sense of gratitude for the sacrifice our men and women in uniform make for the good of their neighbors.
Just last year, I visited our Iowa troops for Thanksgiving in Afghanistan. It was good to see them, and I know how much they were missing their families. They also want to make sure that the people back home remember them--remember that they are far from home, remember that they are working hard to protect our freedoms.
Our courageous servicemembers know the real cost of freedom. They have seen and felt it firsthand. Many of them live with that price the rest of their lives. Far too many who survive combat continue fighting an internal battle when they return home.
That is why I have made it a top priority to work across the aisle to combat suicide and mental health struggles among our veterans. My most recent effort would designate a Buddy Check Week to educate veterans on how to conduct peer wellness checks. It is a really simple measure that could go a long way to support the health and safety of those who have bravely served our Nation.
During this Thanksgiving season, we also must continue to show our gratitude for those who are putting their own health and lives at risk by serving on the frontlines in our fight against COVID-19.
Throughout this pandemic, there have been over 850 Iowa National Guardsmen working to deliver personal protective equipment, food, and medical supplies all across the State of Iowa. Having served in the Iowa Army National Guard for many, many years, I could not be more proud of their tireless and selfless efforts. That is why I have introduced legislation to provide tax-free hazardous duty pay for our National Guard men and women to recognize the work they are doing during this pandemic and provide them the pay they deserve.
I know I speak on behalf of all Iowans when I say I am truly thankful for all of those who have ever served our Nation in uniform, and also to their families. This month we honor and appreciate all the sacrifices our military families make to support loved ones who are serving our Nation in uniform.
While this Thanksgiving might look a little different, let's not forget to be grateful for the freedoms and the blessings we have in this truly great country.
May God bless all Iowans, including those serving overseas and those caring for strangers during this pandemic. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve you.
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