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Our freedom comes with a big pricetag

| Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Fourth of July is here, and for many it is a time of celebrating with family and friends and watching fireworks.

But what are we really celebrating?

While independence is something that many of us take for granted every day, it certainly has its price.

Never has the price of that independence been debated more than with the current war in Iraq.

As our country's involvement in the events overseas continues, the political football of war has been passed around by not only the politicians, but the public, as well.

For me, the war in Iraq and the price of independence and freedom has a more personal effect these days.

That's because my oldest son, Justin, is currently part of the more than 160,000 military personnel serving in Iraq.

He is a private in the infantry of the army. His job, as of now, is to drive an armored striker, an attack vehicle.

Justin has been in Iraq for over a month, just starting his 18-month tour of duty there.

I get to talk to him at least once a week on the phone, sometimes twice.

I am amazed at his attitude and resilience in what has to be a tense situation. Whatever he is going through, it has not changed his personality or his sense of humor.

When we talk, he calls his duty "a job."

"I get up every day and go to work, just like you do," he says.

Justin very much believes in what he is doing over there for his country.

But, to be honest, he has no love for the people of Iraq. He is, as I said earlier, doing his job.

While I know that many other Valley families have gone through the same situation as my family has with loved ones overseas - some of whom may not have made it back home - Justin's story of commitment to freedom and independence is a little different because of the personal sacrifice he is making at this time.

When he left for Iraq, Justin left behind his wife, Ashley, and a toddler son, Hunter, who is less than two months shy of his first birthday.

And, oh, did I forget to mention that Ashley was seven months pregnant with their second child when Justin left?

In fact, Ashley gave birth to Lane Alan on June 18. So Justin is missing out on seeing both of his baby sons' early development.

I am proud of how he handles being away from his family. He called Ashley while she was in labor and talked to her for a while.

And when he got news of the birth of his son, he said he celebrated with other soldiers in his platoon by smoking cigars and drinking non-alcoholic beer.

When we talk about his experiences in Iraq, I try not to get into specifics. I mean, I don't want to know if my son has fired a weapon at the enemy - or if he has been fired upon.

All I know is that right before he left for Iraq, Justin re-enlisted for a second four-year hitch in the army in hopes of making a career of military life.

However, he recently told me that once his eight years are up, he is getting out.

"Eight years is enough," he said.

That kind of tells me how things are going for him over there.

I do know that everybody reacts to war differently. I have talked to some people who had a son serve in Iraq and come home forever changed.

I also know friends who have been there more than once and are no different now than they were before they left this country.

I guess the bottom line, as a parent, is that I only pray that Justin comes home. Alive. Period.

Anyone out there who has a family member serving overseas can relate to what I'm saying.

Those of you who don't, well, I'm sure military families will appreciate your prayers.

And maybe we all can step back and realize - if even for a moment - the price that is paid for independence and freedom.

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