Freedom Isn’t Free: Thank You, Veterans

I’ve posted this very similar post every Veteran’s Day over the last cycle of elections. It seems fitting that this special day to honor those who have served our country in the military comes right around the time that we elect those who lead us. And it seems fitting when those very elections have been so contentious. I’d like to step back and take a moment to think about elections and freedom.

This day means a lot to me because I get to honor my father, Col. USAF Ret. Philip Chaffee, who served 25 years in the military, trained pilots in the T-38 and other trainers, flew F-4 Phantoms in service to his country in Viet Nam, and taught me what it means to love my country (yes, my imperfect country). I get to honor numerous relatives, friends, folks who sit at breakfast beside me and my husband in the local diner, proudly wearing their veteran caps, and men and women I don’t know whose pictures are proudly displayed on banners in numerous small towns as their “Hometown Heroes.” It’s a way to honor my mom and all the military spouses and their families.

I thank you.

I’m here to thank you who swore to protect our freedoms. I’m here to thank you who, answerable to your commander-in-chief (for anyone who might not know, that’s the president of the United States), do what you are called to do. I’m here to honor you who take that job seriously, who are compassionate when you need to be and deadly when you need to be. I’m here to thank you who fight for freedom.

I wish that more people understood the sacrifices you make—in families separated for long stretches and, when not separated, uprooted and moved to new places; in facing enemy fire; in PTSD and things you can’t unsee when you close your eyes to sleep; in doing all of this for pathetic pay and, too often in this day and age, for little respect.

You make these sacrifices because you believe in America.

This is what I thank you for. Too many people just don’t seem to understand that freedom isn’t free. It has to be protected.

My dad is the coolest.

Let’s not let it go. Let’s be careful to be worthy of the sacrifices these people have made and make every day to protect our nation “from enemies foreign and domestic.” On this day we honor those who have served; on Memorial Day we honor those who have died in military service.

The best way we can honor our veterans is to handle carefully and respectfully — and dare I say, in awe of — the amazing gift of freedom. When we see it being chipped away, we need to fight back. We are a strong nation because we are a free people.

But here’s the other side of the coin. With freedom comes a huge amount of responsibility. We’re free—but not to hurt one another. Not to badmouth those who disagree with us. We’re free to express opinions, but we must always do so respectfully, realizing that the person across from us with a very different opinion came to that opinion in his or her own reasoned way just as we did.

Being able to express ourselves is the very essence of freedom.

Has America had some very bad policies? Oh yeah. Have some presidents made some really bad decisions? Heck yes. Does America have some really big problems to work on? You bet.

But it has always been that way. Always. No country is perfect just as no person is perfect. We are all fallible and the best we can do is, when we see a problem, decide that we need to fix it. And we start to figure out how to do that. We need all of the voices in the conversation—but there is no conversation if everyone is offended or upset or name-calling. The way we get to the best decisions is when we sit down and hear one another.

It’s what the Founding Fathers did. It’s what helped build a country that has been unmatched around the world.

Thank you, veterans. We will attempt to honor your lives and sacrifices.