Throughout our country’s history, generations have watched their fellow citizens deploy to foreign lands to preserve our freedoms and way of life. For the current generation, it’s been 20 years since our country was attacked on 9/11, and they have grown up watching neighbors and loved ones deploy to serve in the global war on terrorism.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 52,000 military members have paid a high price and need lasting support. While these service members have returned home, their lives, and the lives of their family and friends, have been forever changed. They have made a sacrifice many may never fully understand or see.

Veterans Day is time for us all to celebrate the American spirit. A day to cherish what truly makes our nation great — the selfless service of those from all generations who served in the military to protect democracy and the American way of life. We recognize the men and women who exemplify core American values every day — selfless service, courage, sacrifice, and determination, and those who are ambassadors, providing real-life examples of our values across the globe. As a nation, this is a day to thank those who wear or have worn the cloth of our nation. We enjoy freedom because in every generation there were brave men and women who stepped forward to serve and protect American values and the liberties we all enjoy today.

George Washington understood the importance of communicating our military’s value to its citizens. On Nov. 10, 1781, he said, “The willingness with which our young people are willing to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” Veterans’ service and sacrifice span every decade, every year, and every day of American history. Fortunately, our great country is blessed with citizens who continue to answer the call, raise their right hand, and swear to support and defend the Constitution.

Every day I am honored to represent the men and women of today’s military. So, for those who take the time to do so, thank you for thanking me and others in uniform. And if you get the opportunity, please thank our military families. Although our military members and their families do not know what the future holds, their devotion to the ideals of peace and freedom should inspire each of us, and the public’s sincere appreciation means a great deal to them.

Finally, I know that not all veterans are easily recognized, but they are also not hard to find. The next time you fly from St. Louis Lambert International Airport, look for the young men and women wearing their crisp new uniforms as they transit to and from Fort Leonard Wood. They’ve volunteered to serve, and we all need them to want to keep serving.

I also encourage members of the public to visit the Missouri Veterans Home on Lewis and Clark Boulevard in St. Louis, or any of the many local veterans’ groups like the VFW, American Legion or Amvets. That’s where you’ll find veterans who have sacrificed not only for our nation, but for you. On this day, it is to these veterans I will extend my hand and say: Thank you for your service. We will not forget your sacrifice.

Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost is the 14th commander of U.S. Transportation Command headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and a command pilot with more than 4,200 hours in more than 30 aircraft.

Article originally posted on STLToday.