The primary mission of the United States armed forces is to defend the security and interests of the United States around the world. Since its inception, the US Army, followed by the Navy, Marines, and Air Force have fought for freedom around the world. Hundreds of thousands of American men and boys have died in remote corners of the world to defend their homes and the freedom of people that they have never seen.
The capabilities of the military do not end with searching out and destroying the enemies of freedom and justice, however. The same dedication and skill combined with state of the art military hardware make the military a valuable resource when it comes to aiding people in need, regardless of whether their crisis is the result of a natural disaster or a war.
In our own country, the National Guard has long been a valuable resource in domestic natural disasters. Countless victims of hurricanes and tornados have received assistance from the National Guard. It is not unusual to see National Guardsmen stacking sandbags along swollen creeks and rivers as floodwaters rise. Guard helicopters pluck survivors from the ocean and stranded hikers from backcountry trails. The National Guard has become so synonymous with disaster relief that many seem to have forgotten that it is primarily a part of the armed forces and not a charity group.
Around the world, the US military has aided numerous nations following natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and famines. US Air Force cargo planes routinely airlift relief supplies and food around the world on short notice. One of the largest and most famous instances of US military humanitarian assistance is the Indonesian tsunami of 2004. Countries around the world contributed to the relief efforts, but only the US military had the ships, airplanes, and helicopters available to actually go to areas where virtually all infrastructure was destroyed.
The US military can also be effective in assisting countries recovering from war. US forces under the Marshall Plan were largely responsible for rebuilding the parts of the world devastated by World War II. This included aiding millions of people displaced and left homeless by the war.
Relief efforts can be done by the military itself or with the help of nonmilitary relief agencies. Many of these areas are still somewhat dangerous and relief agencies often rely on the military for security. Additionally, the military has the manpower and equipment to finish construction projects rapidly. US military efforts to rebuild and improve Iraqi schools and hospitals have been largely ignored by the media. A major problem in the past has been that insurgent and militia groups moved in behind US forces and often destroyed their work.
The US strategy in Iraq under General Petraeus is one of working with the Iraqi civilians. US forces now clear terrorists from an area and then stay there to keep them away. This strategy can work easily alongside aid groups who want to help Iraqi civilians as well. Aid groups and armies have worked together in the past in war torn countries such as Bosnia and Kosovo.
When considering US military assistance to war torn countries, it must be remembered that the top priority of the US military must remain the national security of the United States. The United States does not have the resources to help victims of every war and disaster around the world. The US must target its efforts to areas of greatest need and areas of its national interest.
To truly help the people of war torn countries, the most important thing is to stop the fighting. We must also remember that true peace is not merely the absence of fighting, but requires freedom and justice. The best way to ensure that the people can get the help they need is to defeat forces that thrive on terror, hunger, fear, and intimidation. When that happens, relief agencies will be able to work without fear of attack by terrorists and insurgents, and the US military will be able to devote more resources to rebuilding, rather than hunting terrorists.