Celebrating freedom, faith, service this July 4th

Retired U.S. Army Col. David Dodd served more than 27 years in the military, including two deployments to Iraq. He is director of operations at Shields of Strength, and on the board of Point 27, a nonprofit outreach to veterans, military families, first responders, athletes and the chronically ill.

As a military veteran, the Fourth of July stirs my sense of patriotism with a surge of memories and appreciation for the time I spent serving with soldiers and Army families.

In the military, we were part of something much bigger than ourselves, serving in an institution with a rich history of seven values: duty, honor, integrity, loyalty, respect, personal courage and selfless service. We were a small part of an organization that defended freedom for America and millions of people globally. We served with people from across the American states and territories with diverse cultures, religions, races and experiences. However, we all rallied around those seven core values and collectively focused on defending freedom.

My wife Sharon and I loved serving with soldiers and Army families. We were so thankful our daughters grew up in an environment that valued teamwork, selfless service, sacrifice, perseverance, honesty, love of country and liberty.

We witnessed the finest leaders — men who poured their lives into rebuilding the Army following their experience in Vietnam and the painful years that followed a war where 58,000 Americans died and America was splintered politically. These military leaders loved America enough to sacrifice their lives to train, mentor and prepare future generations of soldiers to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They worked tirelessly for a greater cause, often sacrificing time with their loved ones, and forgoing lucrative opportunities in the private sector, and the comfort of settling down in a community.

These patriots, who for the most part remain nameless to most Americans, toiled day and night, quietly, anonymously, for little pay and recognition. However, they live on in my mind, in my wife’s heart, and in my daughters’ memories. Their life’s work resulted in the liberation of Kuwait and the defense of Saudi Arabia from Iraq during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The performance of the U.S. armed forces proved absolutely outstanding, crushing in just 100 hours of ground combat Iraq’s Army, which was, at that time, the fifth-largest army in the world.

In the years following Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the U.S. Army was reduced from 732,403 soldiers in 1990 to 480,801 soldiers in 2001. Similar to the post-Vietnam War Army, a small cadre of professionals dedicated their lives to train and prepare soldiers for the next armed threat to American freedom.

That threat manifested on Sept. 11, 2001, when members of Al Qaeda, a radical Islamic terrorist organization, attacked the United States. Al Qaeda’s ideology and stated goals are incompatible with the freedoms that America holds dear. These include freedom of speech, press, religion and petition.

Al Qaeda seeks to destroy the United States, eliminate Israel, unite all Muslims and establish an Islamic nation adhering to the first Caliphs; to include implementing Sharia Law. Al Qaeda, and its splinter group ISIS, mark America’s No. 1 threat.

From 2001 to 2011, my family and I experienced 10 years of an Army at war, fighting to defend America and the freedom we cherish. We witnessed duty, honor, integrity, loyalty, personal courage, respect and selfless service by men and women who sacrificed so much for so many.

Due to the small size of the Army, soldiers deployed repeatedly, each time spending months or years separated from their families. These special men and women put the needs and the welfare of others before their own personal needs and family needs. Anyone joining the military after 9/11 knew they would deploy and put their lives at risk to defend America’s freedom. When any of these great Americans re-enlisted, they knew the cost of their service.

For me and my family, these men and women we served with epitomized the words of Jesus when he said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” They know the cost of freedom and they have seen firsthand societies in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries where freedom does not exist.

The Fourth of July has special meaning for my wife and daughters, and me. We cherish our freedom as American citizens, we cherish memories of time spent with soldiers and Army families, and we cherish our spiritual freedom as Christians.

We know our physical freedom was paid for by those soldiers who fought for America, and our spiritual freedom was paid for by Jesus Christ dying for us. We are forever grateful for America’s soldiers and their families, past and present, and for the love of our Savior Jesus Christ.

And, every year, on the Fourth of July, my family and I are thankful for this occasion when we join with all Americans to celebrate freedom, sweet freedom!