Kristen L. Rouse is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2006, 2010, and 2012.

Memorial Day has been a tough holiday since my deployments in Afghanistan. There’s the strain of knowing we all could use a restful 3-day weekend, yet all the while knowing this is our national holiday to remember those we’ve lost in our nation’s wars. As America takes a vacation this weekend, many of us will be thinking of the dear friends, comrades, and loved ones by name. As some Americans enjoy picnics and retail sales, others will spend time grieving at cemeteries. It’s hard to reconcile that sense of disconnection each year, especially as violence in Afghanistan only seems to be escalating, and the American mission there only becomes more difficult to explain.

As a veteran who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, a total of 31 months, this weekend I’m remembering my friends and colleagues who fell in battle, and also some lost to overdose and suicide after we came home. I’m also remembering the Afghans I’ve known. The Afghan patriots I worked with over my tours—the Afghan soldiers who’ve lost their lives since I served alongside them, the interpreters whose lives and families continue to be at risk because of their work with American forces, and the Afghan civilians we worked with in hopes of strengthening their government and civil society. More than anything, I think of the children I knew. The smiling little girl outside our base’s gate selling trinkets. The boys and girls caked with dust waving to our convoys. The bright, mischievous, charming boys who followed us around on foot patrols and missions in remote areas in Afghanistan’s breathtaking mountains. Afghan children have by far paid the heaviest price over these many years of violence, and it’s difficult to feel anything other than grief and sadness as I think of them.

This is why AFCECO is so important to me. I’ve been an avid AFCECO sponsor and supporter since 2006 and over more than a dozen years of the program’s growth and stunning success, and I’ve admired their courage and persistence in facing so many challenges and hardships not of their making. I’ve known that my donations have truly made an impact on AFCECO’s long-term work to transform the lives of Afghan children—and I’ve also known how greatly they need our ongoing support.

Afghanistan will find peace only through its children. AFCECO supports and educates Afghanistan’s future leaders, holding true to Afghan values and culture, while also giving them the skills and hope to survive, make change, and work toward a modern society that offers opportunities for all. Even as so much seems to be unraveling in Afghanistan, AFCECO remains steady at work, preparing the next generation to complete the mission that so many of us simply haven’t been able to accomplish—a stable society and lasting peace. But they simply cannot continue without our help.

This Memorial Day, I ask you to join me in honoring the service and the sacrifice of so many American, Afghan, and Coalition patriots by giving as generously as you can to support AFCECO’s work toward a brighter future for Afghanistan.