Reflections on freedom

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- July 4, 2010, puts year number 234 "in the books" for this great nation, and for those who are keeping track, we also quietly celebrated AEDC's 59th "birthday."

These anniversaries offer us a chance to look back and reflect, for just a moment, what a monumental event the beginnings of these two entities represent. We'll never know for sure, but it's hard to imagine that the founding fathers expected their "experiment" to achieve "great nation" status and serve as the beacon, and for some, the guarantor of the freedoms they held so dear.

In fact, only a "great nation" could serve as both, and this July 4th reminds us of just how important this role has become in an increasingly complex world, and how vitally important our work here is to keeping the dream alive.

This year, like so many in our recent path, we find ourselves as a nation still at war.

While our national economy slowly recovers from a close call, the demand on our military and their families is on the rise. For most of us, this holiday weekend offers a chance to unwind, enjoy the summer sun and enjoy the fruits of our labors with family and friends.

But for thousands deployed overseas, the day will likely pass much like any other, with a few bases pausing for just a moment to witness a small fireworks display or attend a USO sponsored celebration.

For our deployed members, the "birth of a nation" is not just another event on a calendar, it's what they live for every day.

It's been more than 10 years since our first operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as the days mount, it's easy to forget why the nation took this on in the first place.

The Fourth of July reminds us.

The citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan found themselves suffering under a repressive regime, much in the same way the original colonists did. The governments in both countries largely ignored the voice of their citizens, and in many ways scoffed the international community. Both exported their oppression beyond their borders, forcing other nations to take sides.

No amount of negotiation or bargaining would alter the course they were on, only a war would bring about the change needed to put citizens on a path toward freedom.

While some might argue that "we did it ourselves," that revisionist history ignores the significant contributions of other nations, and their militaries, that joined us in our struggle at the outset.

They too were sent by their governments, across the ocean, for a cause deemed in the national interest. But the stories we often see regarding the current conflicts mask the deeper mission at hand. These two conflicts will give birth to new nations, led by their own citizens, with "great nation" aspirations of their own.

Our dream began more than 200 years ago. Theirs is still in its infancy.

Our work here is often the birthplace of the capabilities that the nation needs to carry out these missions.

If you think about how we are contributing to the birth of new nations, our mission takes on a whole new meaning. It's not all about meeting an acquisition schedule or surviving milestone decisions.

It's about building the tools to literally change the landscape of oppression, terror, and greed across the globe. It's about passing the torch of freedom from our hands to new, struggling nations, with dreams as big as our own. Putting it all in that perspective, our work takes on a whole new, noble meaning.

So on this Fourth of July, I hope you'll join me for a moment of reflection, and as you watch the fireworks and revel in the splendor of our 234th year, pause for moment to think about how difficult the situation looked for the founding fathers.

Think about how much we owe them for the sacrifices they endured to forge a new nation, and how in the end, perseverance, determination and the support of the citizens made what seemed impossible, a reality.

Then I hope you'll also join me in a moment of prayer for the brave men and women deployed on the mission to make it happen.

They need us more than ever.

Then let's re-stoke the fires that lets AEDC continue to live up to General Arnold's vision, and keeps our Air Force "Second to None."