Some 49% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the U.S. are concentrated in just five states — California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

The U.S. military today is gradually becoming a separate warrior class, many analysts say, that is becoming increasingly distinct from the public it is charged with protecting. 

As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between military personnel and the broad civilian population appear to be growing more distant, the Pew Research Center concluded after a broad 2012 study of both service members and civilians.

Most of the country has experienced little, if any, personal impact from the longest era of war in U.S. history. But those in uniform have seen their lives upended by repeated deployments to war zones, felt the pain of seeing family members and comrades killed and maimed, and endured psychological trauma that many will carry forever, often invisible to their civilian neighbors.

Soldiering means service in missions of consequence to our country, and to our allies and friends around the world, he explained in an interview: “Service regardless of the challenges, the risks, the hardships, the separation and, most significantly, the casualties and losses — which Memorial Day remembers. Such service is the greatest of privileges.”

America has not always faithfully remembered that

Petraeus said the bedrock of our concept of military service is that those who raise their right hand and take the oath will then execute the policies of those elected to set them, “even if that means deploying to a combat zone, even if it means executing a policy which some of our fellow citizens may question or oppose.”…

He believes the performance of those with whom he was privileged to serve post-9/11 was truly magnificent: “In fact, they clearly deserve recognition as ‘America’s New Greatest Generation.’”…

Remember, they died protecting you. Whether you agreed politically with their war, you owe them a wealth of gratitude, not only for yourself but for your family’s future generations.

There is a place near my home — in a rural county in middle Tennessee — that is especially beautiful. A dirt path leads off from the main road, through a hay field, up to an old barn nestled just at the base of a small hill. It’s like a scene from a painting. For some reason, every time I drive past (which is often), I’m struck by a sense of gratitude — for my family, for the church and school community that so enriches our lives, for the simple pleasures of peace at home — the meals with friends, the long treks to volleyball tournaments, and the joy of watching my kids struggle to train a new puppy. I’m grateful because I understand that there is nothing that I did to truly “deserve” the life I’ve been given.

For years, I tried to deserve it — to convince myself that if only I was a good enough citizen, striving to be a good husband and father, working in my community to love and support those less fortunate, and using my law degree to defend liberty, then I could one day reflect on my life with satisfaction — with a sense that I’d given more than I’d taken…

That’s when I learned — to paraphrase a character in a recent summer movie — that there’s “red in my ledger,” red that I can never turn to black. Christians are familiar with this concept. The blood of Christ grants a gift of eternal life that we cannot possibly earn. Here at home the blood of our warriors — spilled for liberty — has granted us a nation greater than we deserve. Yes, millions of Americans have worked for more than two centuries to build the families, the businesses, and the civic institutions that make the America we live in today, but the predicate for all those actions is a combination of peace and freedom purchased at the highest price.

To say that we can’t repay our debt to these warriors is not to say that we shouldn’t be good stewards of the fruits of their sacrifice. Indeed, the knowledge that all of our lives and opportunities are to some degree blood-bought should sanctify them for even our most secular citizens. Honor sacrifice by tending to the tree of liberty, by building something in your own turn that is worth defending.