My parents’ community celebrates Fourth of July like no other. They have pool parties, a bouncy house, a huge barbecue, and of course, the requisite fireworks display. But the highlight of the week-long celebration is the golf cart parade. My mom and my daughter have entered three years now, decorating the golf cart and strategizing about how to win. Competition is stiff! This year my son, who is active duty Air Force, got leave to join us and in his honor they went with a military family members theme. We’ve spent the last few days searching for and printing out pictures of family members who have served to use on the cart. We have a dozen represented, going back to World War II and every war since, up to and including Operation Enduring Freedom. It was especially touching to see the photo of my grandfather as a young Marine in World War II, signed “To my wife, from your loving husband, Thomas.” What started as a fun way to win a contest turned into a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices made by so many in our family over the generations as well as those of all military members past, present, and future.
It’s not easy serving your country, giving up your own personal freedom in many ways to protect our collective freedom. I spent a year in my early twenties as an Air Force wife- or a “DW” (dependent wife) as was my identity then- and quickly came to value the strength of a person who can put his or her own stubborn independence aside for the good of the order. I had a hard enough time with my late library book meaning a chewing out for my husband (for crying out loud, what’s the big deal was my thought), never mind following orders all day long. But being faithful in small things is critical training for the big things, like the battlefield, where there is no time for questioning. The discipline is exceptional.
These mostly young (average age is 27) men and women of our military make sacrifices on our behalf every day, deployed or not. They’ve given up their choice of where to live, what job to have, even which skivvies to wear (at least at first), all in the name of defending OUR right to make those same choices. Once they take that oath to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, their lives are no longer their own; they are now the property of the US Government. Many endure deployments far from home, sometimes several back to back, feeling the sadness of missing family milestones like a baby’s first steps, or the mixture of frustration and pride of watching the family soldier on without them, wondering how they’ll reclaim their place when they return. From the grunt work to the glory, on foreign soil or at home in the USA, they each have a vital role to play in protecting our freedoms- even the freedom to criticize.
And criticize we do. We seem to have a collective pessimism about our nation, and an underlying current of belief that our days as an exceptional country are numbered. It sure doesn’t look like a rosy future for us, if you only take the economic data and the political climate into account. And maybe our future truly isn’t rosy, but I refuse to believe we are doomed. Instead I choose to focus on our “X factor”- that intangible, immeasurable All-American can-do spirit. The spirit that founded this country against all odds; the spirit that loves a come from behind underdog victory. I choose to believe that there is hope for our nation, that we will not only survive this economic and political turmoil, but emerge on the other side even stronger. So come on America, let’s show our military- the best military machine in the world- that the USA is a nation they, and we, can be proud to serve.
May God continue to bless the United States of America.
For a peek into the real life of deployed troops, check out this piece written by my brother, Dennis O’Brien, a journalist embedded with a Marine unit back in 2003. His mission was to capture the gritty reality of what sailors and Marines go through in the course of a deployment. He did it so well he was nominated for a Pulitzer.
PS- our cart took Second Place.