I remember the first time the war really impacted me. I was a senior in college and we had already been in Iraq for four years and in Afghanistan for 6. Neither of those freedom operations had impacted my plans to graduate high school, live it up in college, graduate early and excitedly start my life as a “real” adult. During summer school the summer before I had met a fellow Vanguard lion, Laura, who hooked me up with a cool job at the police department. I was going through my emails one morning when I came across one with a picture of a soldier. It was my friend’s brother who had just passed away in the Middle East. The email invited the entire department to his memorial service held at a local church. I was stunned.
I didn’t know Laura that well and I didn’t know her brother at all. But Laura and I were the same age, both graduating, both working for the same police department, both in relatively the same stages of life and when I tried to imagine what it would be like to lose my brother at that point in life, the images were heartbreaking. And to lose him so suddenly and so far away from home…that was a pain I could not imagine.
The service was beautiful. The church was full of cops and service men in full uniform, paying tribute to a fallen family member. I was in my aide uniform and there as something about that uniform that tied me to this unknown soldier and still foreign community. Just as Laura’s brother had given up his life in the war, I realized that this police force was willing to do the same for citizens here at home. I was part of something bigger than myself, a community dedicated to serving civilians regardless of the fact that most of us at our worst mock them and at our best just don’t say anything. Sure there are corrupt cops and soldiers. There are political disputes about how much money should be spent on defense spending and local police forces. There are reasons to support the war and reasons to oppose it. But at the end of the day, most servicemen are genuinely fighting for something that goes beyond all that. They are fighting for freedom. They are fighting for their families, friends, and enemies. They are fighting for their fellow countrymen. They are fighting to uphold the basic rights that still exist in this country and don’t in so many others. Although the reality is messy and complicated, the ideal they are fighting for is to be commended.
I don’t remember his name, exactly how he died or even which country he was in. I don’t know anything about his life, but I know that his death was a sacrifice for me and my freedom. And for that I am forever grateful.
To die in vain is to die unremembered. So today I remember Laura’s brother as well as the 5,487 other US soldiers who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan to date. For at least one lowly American girl, your death was not in vain.
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots”- Thomas Jefferson
photo by Pamela Marches Photography