When veterans parade through Petaluma this afternoon, their ranks will be heavy with men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The last troops left Iraq two years ago. After 12 years, the U.S. presence is winding to a close in Afghanistan.
A year from today, on Veterans Day in 2014, most if not all of the remaining troops will be gone from Afghanistan, ending a military campaign that started less than a month after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
The wisdom of the global war on terror, as the post-9/11 invasions are officially classified, will be debated for decades to come.
So will the results.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban government that shielded al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was quickly toppled. Yet the Islamist fundamentalist group remains an insurgent threat to a corrupt central government.
Likewise in Iraq, a brutal dictator is gone, but assurances that democracy would flourish were, at best, naive.
Bin Laden is dead, but al-Qaida and its offshoots are formidable enough that an intercepted message prompted the United States to close 19 embassies in Africa and the Middle East this summer.
However mixed the record of the wars, there isn't any doubt about America's debt to the men and women who fought them.
About 2.5 million American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, reservists and National Guardsmen have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both since 2001. Many deployed more than once. More than 6,600 have died.
More than half of these service members already have made the transition to veteran status, returning to civilian life to seek jobs, educations, homes and, not infrequently, health care related to their service. Too many of these veterans are being shortchanged.
; A recent state audit identified California among the lowest performing states in terms of jobs assistance for veterans. And, as a Sacramento Bee editorial pointed out, the Legislature hasn't acted to help veterans obtain college credit for the skills they learned in the service.
; Closer to home, Staff Writer Guy Kovner reported on the difficulties experienced by veterans trying to secure affordable rental housing in Sonoma County, even when they have government rental vouchers. A recent survey found 400 homeless veterans in the county.
The demand for housing will only increase with deployments ending in Afghanistan and misguided sequester cuts forcing reductions in the number of active duty personnel.
; The government hasn't reported new data for months, but advocacy groups say more than 1 million troops were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. More than 270,000 have been treated for post-traumatic stress, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those cases are one example of health costs that are certain to grow as the VA plows through an enormous backlog of disability claims.
You can show your support today by attending the North Bay Veterans Day Parade, which begins at 1 p.m. But these vets, and their comrades from the first Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea and World War II, need our support for more than one day each year.