To the editor:
It was nearing the end of the Cold War but it was still going on. The Berlin Wall was still firmly in place, the hostages were still being held in Iran, and I was still stationed in Germany, right in the middle of what we, during our ORIs called "Nuke Central."
We went through our drills, our air raid drills, our gas mask drills. Every service member on base had a gas mask and knew how to use it. I was well practiced in its use and could grab the mask and have it on and sealed in less than 5 seconds. And the NBC suits - charcoal-lined head-to-toe suits that were designed to keep off, if at least for a short while, chemical and nuclear fallout.
Bombings from fanatics occurred even back then (the disco bombing in Berlin by the Red Faction Army, for example). Checkpoint Charlie wasn't just a "security point" with a few guards. And we knew that at any time, any time of day, any day, any week, it could be "the big one." Bombs could start falling, planes would take off, some might come back. It wasn't just a job. The military has never been "just a job." Any person who goes in, goes in with the Coast Guard unofficial motto in mind: "You have to go out. You don't have to come back."
All of you who know me, know I'm not a knee-jerk patriot. I don't wave the flag at people, I don't rant nationalistic jingos at citizens of other countries, I detest the "patriotic" emails flown around the blogosphere.
But I am proud of my service. And I am proud of my country. It's taken some dings of late, some rightfully deserved. But it's attempting to strive for success, to achieve greatness. And anything worth striving for is going to have obstacles along the journey.
And finally, especially, the dead. The people who gave their lives so that I, and others like me, could write pieces like this. Think about that the next time you write something. It's akin to someone walking up to you and saying, "OK, you want to write a blog? Fine. You can do that but I'll have to shoot your neighbor." And your neighbor volunteers to be shot so that you can write that blog.
This isn't, however, an "America: love it or leave it" creed. Those people, those service men and women, those human beings died so that you could write what you wanted to write. Not what someone told you to write, not what censors decided you could write but what you, yourself, chose to put to pen.
Freedom. Liberty. The ability to say what you'd like to, the ability to disagree with your government, the ability to speak your piece. I don't care if you're atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic, pagan, gay, straight, transgender, Republican, Democrat, independent or whatever your world view is. Speak your piece. Say it. Loudly and proudly. Say it. Because if you don't... if you don't speak up... if you don't exercise that blood-won privilege of saying what's in your heart and what's on your mind... then all those people, all those humans, all those neighbors, those mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and cousins... they will all have their deaths diminished.
They EARNED that right for you with their life's blood. Don't throw it away.