Two hundred thirty-nine years ago on July 4, our founding fathers signed and delivered a document declaring the 13 colonies to be free from British rule.
On that same day 227 years later, Army Spc. Jake Boyer, a young public affairs specialist, was on a convoy from Baghdad to Fallujah. It was kind of a bummer. I woke up that morning in one of the Green Zone’s occupied McMansions. I was photographing and writing about an engineer unit that was going to have a great party in the pool that came with the McMansion later that day. It’s weird to think about it now in light of everything that came after, but things were still pretty good in Iraq that summer. Going from Baghdad to Fallujah didn’t carry the nasty connotations that it did later; I just wasn’t sure if the engineers I was going to link up with in Fallujah had a pool.
When I arrived in Fallujah, I realized that I needn’t have worried. There wasn’t a pool, but there was plenty of party for those who weren’t on patrol. A firefighting unit had set up a kind of “tug of war” in which they were using conflicting fire hoses to push a cooler back and forth along a line it was attached to. The familiar smell of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers filled the air. Everyone in sight smiled and laughed, celebrating 227 years of the United States’ independence.
There are all kinds of things to ponder on Independence Day: the founding fathers who bravely put their names to paper and started an experiment we continue to tinker with today, the brave men and women who have fought and died for this country from that day forward, fireworks, apple pie, baseball; the list is endless. But I always think about that day in Fallujah and how important it is to celebrate this great country if you have the opportunity. If a bunch of Soldiers on a deployment to a hot, arid land for an indeterminate amount of time can let their buzz cuts down and enjoy the day, than so should the rest of us.
America is a lot of things to me. It’s those things I already mentioned. It’s the promise of a land where we’re all judged by our merits, not any number of easy discriminators. It’s holding on through a hot baseball game hoping something great happens in the ninth. It’s loading up the car and heading on a cross-country trek not having any idea of the beauty and wonder you’ll see along the way, especially the first time. It is all of those things and more, and it all started 239 years ago. It continues to be defended by brave men and women deployed all over the world, likely doing something to mark the day, whether they’re in Kabul, Camp Zama or Baghdad. Let’s make sure we all spare them a thought Saturday, and hope they at least have a pool.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally prepared for and also appeared on the Defense Logistics Agency’s website under the title “America! The Column.”