Many were blessed last week to enjoy Thanksgiving gathered around a table with friends and family. Thanksgiving dinner provides us all the chance to reflect on what we are truly grateful for and how fortunate we are to have close family and friends in our lives. I am also thankful for all our servicemen and women serving to defend our freedoms.

While I was praying for all of these families this Thanksgiving, there were two families especially on my mind — the Knowlan family and the Ives family.

A few days before Thanksgiving, I boarded a flight from Joint Base Andrews to meet with military leaders and to see our troops serving abroad and away from their families this holiday season. I traveled to Afghanistan and Kuwait and witnessed the relentless dedication and selfless devotion of our men and women serving in America’s armed forces.

In Afghanistan I had a unique experience that made the visit feel especially close to home; I had the opportunity to visit with Spencer Knowlan, a deployed member of the U.S. Army Cape County.

However, in service abroad in Afghanistan is not the first time I met Spencer. This past August, I visited Spencer’s family farm during my annual visit to southern Missouri farms and with the families which work on them day in and day out. The stop in Cape County is where I met Jack and Bonnie Knowlan, Spencer’s parents. Spencer and his wife Lara operate the family farm in conjunction with his parents, Jack and Bonnie.

Spencer was eager and enthusiastic to show me his family’s operation, and I could tell hard work was not a foreign concept to him. He let me know he would be deploying to Afghanistan in a few weeks, and I told him I’d love to come visit him while he was there. Whereas I knew this would inevitably present a host of challenges for his family and their farm, I could only help but feel our nation’s armed forces are in great hands with a man like Spencer in the ranks. It was an honor to run into him in Afghanistan hard at work to protect our way of life.

I, just like the rest of southern Missouri, am so proud of Spencer’s service to our country. At the same time, I understand there is also an immeasurable cost that can come from this service as well.

Before leaving for Afghanistan and Kuwait, I was able to host the family of staff sergeant Ian Ives from Cuba. He graduated in 2011 from the Missouri Military Academy and currently serves in the U.S. Army. His family was in Washington, D.C. for Thanksgiving as they support Ives during his recovery from injuries sustained while serving in Afghanistan. I personally thanked his family for their sacrifice and presented them with a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol for Ian. While I was in Afghanistan, he was constantly on my mind. Ives has a long road to recovery, but I look forward to supporting him and his family through this process.

Our servicemen and women are the pinnacle of patriotism. Their immense sacrifices have ensured that we continue to live in the greatest nation in the history of the world and continue enjoying our rights of liberty and freedom. Many of them were not able to spend Thanksgiving around the table with family and friends celebrating with feasts, parades or football. Some of them are overseas supporting their solemn oath to defend our country, and while others may be back on U.S. soil, they are still hundreds of miles away from home as they recover from serious injuries they sustained upholding that oath.

That is why on Thanksgiving, when we paused and gave thanks to God Almighty for the gifts we have received, the Knowlan family, the Ives family, and all of our military families were in my prayers. I hope they will be in yours now, too.