I had a small container of chocolate chip cookies tucked in my briefcase. They had survived the flight from Phoenix to San Antonio, but I wasn’t sure we would be allowed through the gates of Fort Sam Houston to deliver them to my son. It was July 4, and our son Carson was in the middle of combat medic training. Independence Day takes on a special feeling when you celebrate it on a military installation.
We parked in the visitor’s center parking lot and went inside to fill out the paperwork. The sign on the door instructed us to sign in and wait. I listened to the conversations at the counter about lost IDs and visitor access, and I wondered if all our paperwork was in order. After a few minutes, a man behind the counter called our name. With a few keystrokes he found our information, took my picture, and printed a day pass for us. Security was tighter than when I was in the Air Force twenty years ago, but then again we hadn’t heard of Al Queda or ISIS. We were fighting the communists and socialists. How the world has changed…
Maybe we would be able to deliver the homemade cookies after all.
As we approached the barracks, formations of soldiers in PT gear (matching exercise shorts and t-shirts) ran by singing cadence. “Hey, hey Captain Jack Jack…” Each formation was a mix of men, women, dark skin, and light skin. Even in the same uniform, their differences were noticeable, but the differences didn’t impress me. The uniformity and unity did. No matter where they were before or what their background, all of those soldiers had one thing in common—an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic.
The sun beat down on us and threatened to melt the chocolate chips in the cookies as we walked over to the barracks. Each building had a covered area outside for formations and some of them had soldiers in training lined up and waiting for something. All the soldiers that walked by had a “battle buddy” with them and a reflective colored belt around their waist or slung over their soldier. My battle buddy was my wife dressed in red, white, and blue.
As we approached the front door of the barracks, out walked our son in his field uniform and a colored reflective belt slung over his shoulder. He moved with purpose and bearing, not like the lackluster teenager gait he would have displayed just a few years ago. My wife squealed and gave him a big hug. I kept my military bearing and made my embrace short and professional, but inside I wanted to wrap him up and jump up and down.
He told us about his training as we walked to the mini-mall across the street. I still held the cookies, waiting for the right moment to share them. The mini-mall was a slice of the outside world—Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, Dominoes Pizza. The Army really does travel, and train, on its stomach. We took a seat at one of the tables surrounded by soldiers in training and ordered lunch from Taco Bell. Nothing says “America” on the 4th of July like fast food.
We talked of home, and of training. We ate fast food and filled him in on the latest family news. CNN Headline News was playing on the big-screen TV above us. The commentators and guests argued about Donald Trump’s tweet with a six-pointed star, Hilary Clinton’s FBI probe, and how to fight terrorists. We asked about his teammates and his Sergeants. The news turned to attacks in Iraq by ISIS and the two hundred people killed during a terrorist bombing. I looked around the room at the young men and women eating fast food and wondered. Do they have any idea what is in store for them? Do we understand the cost they may have to pay for us?
One of the Sergeants told them during training, “ISIS has your picture up on their wall. They want nothing more than to kill you.” I watched the newsreel of mangled bodies and destruction from the ISIS attack and realized that some of the men and women in the room with me that day could be injured or killed at the hands of our enemies. I recognized that my son might pay a steep price to keep me free.
We fight an enemy that is ideologically opposed to our freedoms. I wonder if they understand what they are fighting against. After all, a Muslim has more freedom to practice his or her religion under the Constitution of the United States than anywhere else in the world. And yet, ISIS (radicalized Islamists) wants to destroy the freedoms the Constitution protects. Irony is always an integral element of war.
Celebrating Independence Day on a military installation transforms the experience. We civilians celebrate with barbecues, watermelons, and parades, and think little of the cost of our independence. But for the men and women who put on a uniform and take an oath, the cost of our independence is measured in pints of blood, months away from family, and white headstones.
I smiled and handed him the container of chocolate chip cookies.