On the Fourth of July, Americans all across the country join together to celebrate America’s independence. From Main Street parades to firework displays, every American has their own tradition for honoring the red, white and blue.

Personally, I can think of no better way to celebrate than by honoring our veterans and the men and women of our U.S. armed forces who protect and defend the values and freedoms that make America the greatest country on the face of Earth.

Currently, 2.1 million Americans have answered the call to serve in our all-volunteer force. Understanding that we live in a world of unknown and dangerous threats, these dedicated men and women have taken an oath to defend our nation against all enemies.

Just as these troops have dedicated their lives to serving our country, we must be equally dedicated to equipping them with the support, training and resources necessary to remain the most elite force on the planet.

As a member of the U.S. Senate, I believe my foremost responsibility is to safeguard the peace and tranquility of the American people. Congress must set priorities for our national defense and provide full funding for those who lay it all on the line to protect us.

We do this by passing a law each year called the National Defense Authorization Act to set those priorities and fund them. Last week, my colleagues in the Senate and I took the first step in this process by passing our version of this important legislation.

The Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020 keeps our promises to our military and builds on last year’s increased investments in readiness, modernization and benefits for our service members.

Nearly 90,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in Georgia will benefit directly from the Senate measure if enacted, as will our state’s military installations. Georgia plays an active and strategic role in our national defense.

The Senate-passed bill increases end-strength troop levels for the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy and provides our active duty troops with a 3.1% pay raise, the largest in a decade.

It also directs the Pentagon to carry out major construction projects at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Fort Gordon in Augusta and the Air Dominance Center at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Savannah.

Our Senate bill makes investments in equipment upgrades, procurements, replacements and cybersecurity. It includes new and improved facilities and education efforts for current service members. It also supports programs like the STARBASE youth program and academic cyber institutes at colleges and universities to ensure a strong pipeline of future cyber elite and long-term dominance in cyber warfare.

Supporting our warfighters also means providing for their families. The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act includes housing construction and improvements for military families and members who live on base and an improved professional licensing process for military spouses to make it easier when families are transferred to a new state.

It also creates a Military Tenant Bill of Rights, which is a clear and fair dispute resolution process for military tenants. The measure increases oversight of military contractors, enhances quality assurance and quality control measures to make sure these facilities are worthy of our service members and their families.

I was glad to work to secure these priorities and to see this bipartisan measure pass the Senate by an overwhelming vote, with Republicans and Democrats working together to strengthen our national defense and fulfill our promise to the brave men and women serving in uniform.

This July Fourth, I encourage all Americans to reflect on what the stars and stripes really represents in the United States. Were it not for the men and women in uniform, we would not have the freedoms we celebrate.

I thank our service members, past, future and present, for their service and sacrifice to keep our country safe and free.

On this July Fourth and every day, may God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in the 116th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services as well as nearly 700,000 veterans.

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