Lessons in Freedom

February is especially important for the town of Riverside. Every year we dedicate this month to our US Veterans. We honor all those who have served to assure our freedom. Make no mistake, we never forget or vets throughout the year, but we make a special effort to let them know just how much we appreciate their unselfish service during this month.

Today the Chronicle woke up to a great treat. Some old friends and war heroes Jake and Craig showed up in a beautiful limousine provided by Raleigh Limo Services. They deserved the royal treatment after what they have been through at war. Craig had just returned from a stint in Iraq as a Medic, and was enrolled for the upcoming summer semester at the Riverside College. After seeing we were preparing for Veterans’ Month he volunteered the following story.

He began by telling us he was from a military family. His father and Uncles all served as Marines and their father before them. The thought of war disgusted Craig and after graduating High School attended college as a Conscientious Objector. Since he came from a loving family, his father respected his rights, and never tried to persuade him otherwise. Craig knew there was a hidden disappointment that his family carried, but it was never spoken aloud.

One day after hearing a close friend who had joined the Army after High School was coming home in a body bag, Craig’s mind began opening. His buddy was gone forever and the thought that his friend had made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom, hit him in a way he never expected. After attending the funeral, ironically, he went directly to the recruiting office at the local mall and signed up.

He was pre-med in his third year at Riverside College and joined assured he could continue his education and service as a Medic. I don’t think anyone ever realizes what the battlefield is really like until they live it. Movies and others’ accounts can’t fill in the deep experience of being on scene itself. Craig found this out within hours of arriving in Iraq.

A call came in alerting the medical team to prepare for incoming casualties. Several IED, improvised explosive devices had hit a convoy and at least 9 men were injured and two confirmed dead. Within minutes Craig told us, he was scrubbed and attending a fellow about his same age who was unconscious, had his right leg seared off, burns to forty percent of his body, multiple broken ribs, and head trauma. It was all too real.

Although he had only been on the ground less than 5 hours, he found himself feeling like it had been a lifetime. He and his new found medical teammates stabilized his first patient. He assisted in surgery and was assured that his fellow soldier would live.

This was just the beginning of many scenes to follow during the next year and a half. With every soldier, he tended he felt like he was battling evil forces for the sake of good. He still found war disgusting, in fact, more so than ever, but he learned the cost of freedom.

While his platoon relocated 3 times over the next several months he witnessed the Iraqi people who were innocent victims of the perils of war suffering as much as the troops who were there defending them. More than once he thought, “There for the grace of God, go I.”

He knew first hand, that because of the brave men and women willing to put their lives on the front line every day that sometime soon he would go back to a country that was free. He never appreciated our military more than when he realized what the fight for freedom really meant.

Craig’s life will forever be changed, there’s no doubt about that and now he is planning to continue his education and pay it forward. His goal is to work at the Riverside VA hospital when he is Board Certified. He learned the lesson in freedom and vows to spend the rest of his life honoring those who serve.

Do you know a Vet with a story? Please leave a comment below and we’ll get in touch to set up an interview. A huge thank you to all the men and women and their families who are or have served in the cause of freedom.