WASHINGTON — Advocates for a National Global War on Terrorism Memorial want to see a site established before this generation's veterans all become senior citizens.
And to do that, work has to start now.
"A 40-year-old servicemember that seized the first airfield in Kandahar (in Afghanistan) in 2001 is now 56," Andrew Brennan, executive director of the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation. "Given that these efforts often take five to seven years, we're in a position where that servicemember may be taking grandchildren to see the memorial for the war he fought in.
"With inaction, we risk losing the ever-important opportunity to share our history with our nation’s future decision makers."
Lawmakers and veterans advocates gathered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ headquarters on Capitol Hill Tuesday to support new legislation to jump start efforts to honor troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 with a new memorial, similar to the other war monuments spread across the National Mall.
No site or design has been selected yet, because under federal law the project technically can’t go ahead until 10 years after the conflict ends. Troops have been stationed in Afghanistan for more than 16 years now, and U.S. forces that left Iraq in 2011 have re-entered that country in recent years.
"My grandfather served in WWII, but he never got a chance to visit the memorial (completed in 2004)," said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who served four combat tours in Iraq as a Marine Corps infantry officer. "I want to make sure that’s not the case for so many of our War on Terror veterans today."
Supporters are looking for a waiver to the 10-year rule so they can start working now to honor the nearly 7,000 U.S. troops killed in those countries.
The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who served as a Marine during two tours in Iraq. He called the measure a fitting tribute to those fallen troops.
"My hope is that this memorial will not only remind people on that sacrifice and the sacrifice of so many families in the global war on terrorism, but will also serve as a call to action for those of us who are here, who are alive," he said. "Those who died don’t just want us to sit back in awe of their patriotism, but want our participation, want us to get engaged in government."
If the legislation becomes law, fundraising and construction responsibilities will fall to the foundation, not taxpayers. Veterans groups supporting the bill said they’re anxious to advance that work.
"This memorial will stand as a powerful tool to help bridge the civilian-military divide,"said Bill Rausch, executive director at Got Your 6 and an Army veteran who served in Iraq.
"It will provide opportunities for the public to connect and learn about the service of veterans and their families. And it will provide a shared space for all generations of veterans to strengthen their communities across the country."
No timetable has been set for when lawmakers may take up debate on the bill, but Moulton and Gallagher said they are confident there will be bipartisan support for the idea.
Similar work on the National Desert Storm War Memorial is already underway.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.