The warmth of a fire and chatter among friends and family, the smell of turkey — and all its fixings — floating in the air, and don't forget about the pie waiting for dessert, Thanksgiving is a great time to be with loved ones. It offers a moment of reflection about how blessed we are to live in the United States, the freest and greatest nation in the history of the world.

Thanksgiving as a recurring national holiday first came into existence in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln offered a proclamation to "set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving." He wanted the nation to be thankful for military victories in the Civil War. He hoped Americans across the country would remember the bravery of the troops who fought for freedom.

While we remember what we're thankful for this year, we should recognize that not all Nebraskans are spending time with loved ones this Thanksgiving. Over the holiday, I will have the opportunity to visit with members of Nebraska’s National Guard currently serving our country away from home. These brave service members have traveled thousands of miles away from their friends and family to protect us. Their work is vital to the War on Terror and our national security.

I want to bring them encouragement and let them know that they are representing our state with honor. They make our state proud and deserve thanks for their service.

As I prepared for my trip, I couldn't help but recall my visiting with American service members last Thanksgiving. I was humbled and honored to spend time with Nebraskans stationed in Qatar and Afghanistan. I cherished every moment I spent with each of them. Every day those brave soldiers risk their lives to protect us and keep America safe.

All those serving throughout the world guard our way of life. That's why I am glad that Congress recently sent the 2018 National Defense Authorization (NDAA) bill to the president's desk. This year’s NDAA passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the Senate and the House. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I was honored to help craft this bill and be a part of that process.

We live in a rapidly changing world, and unfortunately, our nation faces a growing number of threats and challenges. Congress acknowledged these dangers by authorizing increased funding for much of the military and several vital programs, from cybersecurity to missile defense. These expenditures will help keep our nation safe.

One of the provisions of which I am proudest, however, involves the most vital asset in the military: our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Those who wear the uniform are more valuable than any weapon system. For that reason, I was happy that the NDAA included the largest pay raise for our troops in eight years. We also preserved Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance payments to surviving military spouses indefinitely, protecting this fund for the survivors of those who died for our country.

As Americans, we have a lot for which to be thankful. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving with their friends and families, and that you will join me in keeping our service men and women in mind as we celebrate.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer can be reached at 202-224-6551.

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