July is a time when we celebrate America’s Independence. As I write this, I’m reading news reports on how President Trump will have military equipment at the National Celebration in Washington, DC. Many people are upset that he would use this occasion to display America’s military might.
This whole debate made me reminisce about the time I spent in Iraq working on a project with some military commanders. I won’t go into detail on the project, but I will say that I gained a greater appreciation for the sacrifices these men and women make in the name of freedom.
At first, the commanders viewed me as an outsider and were suspicious of my intentions. They would whisper among themselves every time I walked into the room. Eventually, I earned their trust by showing that I was willing to work as hard as any of them. They also realized that I was willing to speak truth to power in order to remove barriers to our mission.
As the weeks passed, the generals and colonels who were on my team grew more comfortable with me and let me in their inner lives. I stayed up late many nights listening to their stories which were so rich with excitement and adventure. One of the colonels told me this story:
I was stationed in Afghanistan with my battalion and another commander and his battalion. He was trying to figure out how to get some equipment to another post. He tried to get another unit to transport the item, but was unsuccessful at convincing anyone to make the journey to our remote location. When I looked at the item, I knew that it could fit in a HumVee. I told him to load it in the back of the vehicle and then drive it into town. It would only take about 12 hours. He looked at me as if I had asked him to shoot his mother.
“I can’t do that,” he said.
“Why not,” I asked.
“Because it’s dangerous,” he replied.
I nearly flipped my lid. “Of course it’s dangerous,” I yelled. “This is war! It’s supposed to be dangerous. And you’re a soldier. Danger is your job.” I finally had to transport the equipment myself to show him how real soldiers did their jobs in the face of danger.
Danger was a part of these guys lives for decades, along with all of the ugly parts of their jobs that people don’t want to talk about – the killing, death, and mental anguish. Being a soldier is serious business and not for the faint of heart. I learned about what it’s like to have a friend die in your arms and how it feels to watch a person being cut in half by a sniper’s bullet.
One of the generals spoke some telling words during one of our late-night story-telling sessions. Out of the blue, he muttered, “I’m sick of fighting wars. I’ve been in the Mideast since 1991 and I’m tired of it.” He went on to tell me about the depression and suicide that is rampant in the military and then left me with one final message: “Freedom ain’t Free.”
As our nation celebrates its 243rd birthday, it’s important for each of us to show appreciation to those who continue to fight for freedom, justice, and equality. But we must also do our part. None of us can afford to sit on the sidelines.
I encourage you to be actively involved in your community. Stand up for your beliefs. Challenge injustice and inequality. Be a voice for people who have no voice. Run for office. Vote. Learn to love one another. But most of all, take nothing for granted. Freedom ain’t free, but it’s worth the sacrifice.