Our Freedom Relies on Our Military Professionals
By Jeff Lukens
On this Independence Day, we remember the fight for freedom was the primary principle on which this nation was founded. We remember those in uniform who came before us secured the liberties we enjoy today. Their vigilance was and is the hope and security for freedom loving people around the world.
Freedom is a topic too often assumed by Americans. It is a concept that is sometimes hard for us to grasp. I was once in uniform too. As Cold Warrior stationed in Germany in the 1980s, I participated in endless preparations and field exercises, and surveyed the terrain on the Czech border where I would fight if war broke out. We morbidly joked about our life expectancy at the outbreak of war being measured by minutes. Fortunately for everyone, that never happened. I like to think that my efforts there, along with thousands of other Americans, played a part in preventing such a catastrophe.
During that time, I bought a new sports car, and traveled to Sweden to take delivery on it. On my way back to where I was stationed in Bavaria, I took a side trip to Berlin. In my excitement, I planned the trip with a reckless eagerness in much the same way as I had for visits to London, Paris, and Rome. But, as I soon found out, Berlin was different.
The route I had to take for the journey alone was a big clue, requiring me to drive a controlled 100-mile corridor through East Germany to reach West Berlin. This half city far behind enemy lines provided an island of freedom in which to enjoy and relax. But my curiosity soon took hold and the trip would not be complete unless I saw the wall from the other side.
By treaty, Americans were allowed into the east if they were in uniform. I donned my Army greens and drove through Checkpoint Charlie refusing to be intimidated. So here I was driving around East Berlin viewing the imposing government buildings, and what we would call slums where the common people lived -- me in my new Swedish sports car -- and they in their drab, smoke belching, Yugo-like cars. Stopping to take a walk, I got a closer look. While graffiti covered the wall on the western side, the eastern side was a monotone gray with a 20-meter buffer zone that no one dared go near.
The people could see freedom across the wall and perhaps knew of it in a television world, but they could not live it for themselves. They walked by with their eyes cast downward avoiding contact with me. They did not want to draw attention to themselves. As I stood there in my U.S. Army Class A uniform, within sight of the bombed-out Reichstag building, I could see the oppression and sense of hopelessness these people faced. Their freedom was literally repressed at the end of a gun.
I suddenly felt very alone, as if I were from another planet. There was nothing that connected their world to mine. I knew then more that ever why I wore the uniform, and the importance of defending the cause of freedom. I had seen all I needed to see. It was time to go home.
Almost 20 years have passed since then and interestingly Russia is now our friend, and I'm now working for an American car company. My hero these days is my brother who is a career Army officer, currently working at the Pentagon.
He was there that day when the plane hit. When I heard the news of the attack, my first thought was that it's a big place and he's probably okay. I later discovered that if his desk had been just 50 feet closer to the outside wall of the building, he probably would have been counted among the dead. As it was, he managed to escape the carnage and flames while many of his friends and coworkers did not. With 20 percent casualties in his organization, he worked incredibly long days under extreme pressure to get it running again at a new location, as well as getting help to the victim’s families, and attending many funerals.
On a human level, the events of those days have strengthened his desire for relationships with family and friends. Though it was a very stressful time for him, he always handled himself with honor and professionalism, and for that I admire him. Most people would have broken under the pressure.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur once said, "The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war." But when war is thrust upon them, they respond. Since that day, we have watched our armed forces ready themselves, act, and in some cases, give their lives. Their proficiency has been outstanding. Meanwhile, most of the rest of us worry about things like the war's effect on the business climate and our personal comfort.
Servicemen and women sacrifice their personal freedom so the rest of us can enjoy ours. Freedom requires democracy, but democracy does not encourage military virtues -- such as duty and courage -- on which often depends for survival. Even so, our troops honor their country by going where they were needed without hesitation or complaint. Regardless of their personal thoughts about the orders they are given, or the self-serving nature of some of the politicians they deal with, our armed services have always remained quietly loyal and nonpartisan to their civilian leaders. This too is a testament to their professionalism.
The threat of terror may be with us a long time, and we may never really know its end. On this national day of freedom, this citizen honors the courage and determination of all those who currently wear the uniform. They are our freedom fighters, and they are as important today as at any time in our nation's history. We owe them our support and our sincerest thanks.