This Independence Day I wanted to share with you how American soldiers celebrate the birth of our nation while deployed overseas.
July 4 is a holiday unlike any other. Christmas and Thanksgiving bring on homesickness and nostalgia for soldiers separated from their families. Memorial Day is especially powerful when combat operations are taking place, because almost everyone knows someone who has been killed in the line of duty and the threat of death is ever-present.
Independence Day signifies something different. Since the Army’s inception on June 14, 1775, millions of men and women have spent July 4 fighting for their fellow citizens. Current estimates state that nearly 200,000 U.S. troops are still deployed all over the world. That includes thousands still in Afghanistan and Korea.
I have been deployed for three July 4ths. The last was in 2017 to East Africa. It wasn’t a tough assignment physically. We were working with our local partners in Kenya and Somalia to fight Al Shabaab. Some locations were more dangerous and austere, but most were fairly comfortable and low threat.
I recall us few Americans getting together at our compound. We grilled steaks, drank beer, and played a Frisbee game called can jam. Of course, the steak quality was pretty bad, the charcoal took forever to heat up, and our can jam game was made out of low-quality trash cans we cut holes in.
Honestly, we didn’t care. The Tusker beer was cold, and we enjoyed each other’s company.
We invited a few locals we worked with over and enjoyed sharing with them a brief history of why the date was significant to us. Their perspective on independence and the cost of freedom was much more recent in memory.
My first July 4 deployed in Afghanistan went by in a blur. On the afternoon of July 3, two of my soldiers and a third who was attached to my unit were seriously injured under enemy fire, and it was late in the evening before we were able to fully evacuate the casualties. The next day was spent making sure the rest of the unit could still function on high alert without losing focus worrying if our comrades would make it.
My experiences are not unique. Just search for some photos of soldiers dressed in American flag shorts and shooting machine guns. As early as 1777, George Washington was issuing double rum rations to his troops to celebrate the 4th. I’d like to think he would be smiling at fellow soldiers celebrating the country he suffered so long to secure.
The founding fathers knew the risk they were taking when they shouldered the responsibility of freeing us from tyrannical overlords. We are right to honor their sacrifice and celebrate the ideals that have been passed on to us. However imperfect this nation is, we must continually strive to uphold those self-evident truths that all men are created equal.
Luckily there are still Americans who hold the ideas that built this country in high regard. They are willing to go to far-off lands and die to maintain this system of government we call the United States of America. I was lucky enough to serve with them.