Christmas came early to hundreds of local residents this year when, on Dec. 15, their loved ones came home in time for the holidays. Landing at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, 65 West Virginia Army National Guard members were greeted by overjoyed friends and relatives. "All I want for Christmas is Daddy," one child proclaimed on a poster.
After nearly a year serving in Kosovo, the troops are home in time for Christmas.
Yes, Kosovo, that troubled area of the Balkans where U.S. service men and women have been serving for years as part of a peacekeeping force.
Why, you may ask, are Americans in uniform serving in Kosovo? Isn't that Europe? What critical U.S. interests are our service men and women safeguarding? Shouldn't European troops be handling their own backyard?
Of course they should.
Here's a list of countries in which U.S. troops are serving: Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Cuba (Guantanamo Bay), Diego Garcia, Djibouti, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Hondurus, Israel, Italy, Kosovo, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. That isn't even to mention Navy and Marine personnel in fleets with missions unrelated to direct U.S. security interests.
There are good explanations for some of those postings. Air Force personnel in Kyrgyzstan are supporting our troops in Afghanistan, for example.
But why do we need nearly 1,000 military personnel in Portugal? Why are nearly 53,000 U.S, service men and women in Germany? How about the nearly 37,000 in Japan? And are the 9,199 who were in the United Kingdom at last report there just in case the British attempt to take back the Colonies?
Somewhere around 100,000 men and women in U.S. uniforms won't be home for Christmas this year so that, in effect, people from other countries don't have to serve in the military and can be home for the holidays. We're continuing to use our armed forces for massive missions other nations should be handling.
And, by the way, manning all those overseas posts stretches the Pentagon so thin that West Virginians and Ohioans in the National Guard and Reserve frequently have to be called up to augment active-duty forces. Sometimes that means service in war zones.
It's worse than serving as the world's policeman. What it amounts to, sometimes, is sending Americans to places that don't need policemen. Just what threat to Japan requires the presence of nearly 37,000 heavily armed U.S. "cops?" Can't the Japanese handle their own security? Is there really a threat U.S. troops will have to protect Germany from a Russian invasion?
How many courageous Americans will never come home for Christmas because they've lost their lives on military missions in places like Somalia?
Oh, and what about the money? The United States is $15 trillion (maybe much more) in debt, and we're still providing what amounts to a subsidy to some countries that don't have to spend as much on defense because we're always ready to help.
This is more than ridiculous. It's outrageous. Year after year, some members of Congress complain about unnecessary military spending - yet no one ever seems to do anything about it. Of course, given Congress' record on getting things done right, I suppose we all ought to be delighted we don't have troops in, say, Italy.
Oops. We do - more than 9,700 of them.
Here's an idea: Bringing the troops home for Christmas is a popular concept among politicians. For Christmas 2012, why not stop talking about it an actually do something? Why not break the news to some foreign leaders that, hey, there is no Santa Claus.
Myer can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.