Veterans Day is the day our nation sets aside to thank the men and women who have defended our nation. These are people who continue to enrich our communities today, just as they once accepted a responsibility that could have cost them their lives. It is fitting to have a day to honor these patriots.

Every veteran I know became a better person for their time in service. Since 1973, America has been made and kept free by an all-volunteer force of men and women who chose to risk everything for their country. Their service was not only purposeful and fulfilling but part of their own growth and development. People like me, who enlisted in the infantry, saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, had the opportunity to attend college, and continued to serve others — in uniform and afterward.

Following the Cold War, America’s divisions grew and became more apparent. We were united by a common enemy in the Soviet Union and, for a time, in the war on terror. But even our military has entertained distractions from its unifying purpose: to be always ready to fight and win our nation’s wars. Like any good team, focus matters.

From the first-line leaders to the commander in chief, leadership is essential. Thankfully, our military identifies and develops unparalleled leaders. Collectively, our military has made impossible tasks seem reasonable. However, some problems facing our active-duty warriors and veterans can only be solved by political leadership. Sadly, that record has been disappointing at best.

Unity of command and economy of force are two principles of war that America has consistently ignored in the war on terror. The war in Afghanistan was largely conducted through a series of 20 one-year deployments. Leaders turned over, and the mission itself became distorted and, at times, incoherent. Our military remained at war while America was only passively aware of the fight it was in, of the sacrifices our nation asked of those who serve, and of the consequences of failure. That’s why the Founding Fathers created a Constitution that requires Congress to declare our wars. This requires any war to become a high priority for the entire nation, not just those who serve in uniform.

Congress, for its part, abandoned its post, failing to declare war or define meaningful objectives in its use of force authorizations. Defeating the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq was a noteworthy exception, but successive White House administrations waged expensive and prolonged engagements in the Middle East without well-defined missions and with incredibly limited accountability.

As our troops remained at war, most people stopped paying attention. After we overthrew the Taliban and brought Osama bin Laden to justice for carrying out the 9/11 terrorist attacks, civilians had little at stake in the outcome of the conflict. Preserving the status quo contributed to a sense among Pentagon officials, defense contractors, and hawkish politicians that endless war should become a way of life.

This August, as the United States blundered through a botched and long-overdue withdrawal from Afghanistan, the public was reminded of the costs of war and the price our troops pay. A completely backward plan to pull troops, depend on the Taliban for security, and only then evacuate civilians led to that chaos around the Kabul Airport. The Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate exploited the scene, killing over 100 people, including 13 U.S. service members. In addition to this tragic loss, the Biden administration left behind valuable equipment and weapons, which are now in the hands of our enemies. Worse still, U.S. citizens and Afghan allies were left behind enemy lines.

After an embarrassment of this scale on the world stage, the responsible leaders should offer their resignations or be fired. The lack of accountability at the top is striking, especially when rank-and-file members are thrown into the brig for pointing out the obvious. The glaring two-tiered system of accountability combined with the abuse of constitutional authority for war-making define the urgent need for Congress to reclaim its war powers and properly deploy its oversight authority.

Congress shirked its constitutional duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather than passively cutting checks for endless funding, Congress owes it to our veterans to be more thoughtful in the use of force and to demand accountability — regardless of which political party occupies the White House. This not only honors America’s veterans but also instills confidence in those considering future service to our nation. If we cannot inspire future generations to serve, America cannot be made and kept free — nor shall we have earned freedom.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.