By Neil Murray
For our family, the Fourth of July holiday is one of our favorite days of the year.
It’s a day when everyone of us shows our pride in our country. We visibly shed all doubt about the promise of freedom that our nation still provides the world. And we truly understand, if only for this one day, the deep obligation we have as the most powerful force for good the world has ever seen.
For those of us who served in the armed forces, it’s yet another opportunity to not just wave the flag but to remember those who served with us overseas, fighting for the freedoms we enjoy, and to think of those who never made it home.
I’m asked from time to time “why we do it.”
As a veteran, I can tell you that those who join up do so for their own reasons, from a desire to defend country and Constitution, to stuff that’s much more deeply personal.
My story in the Air Force began right after 9/11. I was drawn to the military’s unrelenting drive for excellence in everything it did. As a combat medic in Afghanistan, deploying in support of an elite team of special operators, I had to know my medicine, had to be ever mindful of safety, and had to make good decisions in times of stress. That’s what lured me, in addition to love of country and a desire to defend our way of life against the terrorists who struck at us, killing 2,996 when the towers fell.
While we may join for different reasons, we stay and we fight and we give our lives for one. That’s love for one another, for the brother or sister who’s next to us in the foxhole or, in my case, the helicopter.
That may surprise some people. The notion that love keeps us in the service. But it does.
When you prepare for war together, you get to know people. You know their spouses, you know their kids, you’ve heard conversations with family back home when those on both ends of the phone call shed tears.
I can tell you that there is nothing more worth fighting for than to make sure your brother or sister in uniform gets home to see those children. And there’s nothing more heartbreaking than losing a friend and picturing the reactions of the children left behind when they learn of it.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I returned from Afghanistan after having served there in Helmand Province from 2013 to 2014. I had a chance to serve in a unit that literally rewrote the book on air medical qualifications, training and certification for the entire Army, based on experiences overseas. And today, I love my job working in the air medical services industry as a flight nurse here in San Antonio.
I get the chance every day, when we get the call, to deploy with my team, several of whom are also veterans, and save lives. We get to deliver the highest quality of care that exists on the planet to local residents who may be suffering from traumatic injuries or having a heart attack or stroke and need medical evacuation.
Some 85 million Americans live more than an hour away from the critical care facility they need, and air medical transport can be their only hope for survival.
Those of us on my team and throughout the air medical transport world, an industry that provides a perfect landing spot for many veterans, get to “win” each day. We get to rewrite those stories we carry with us from combat, where not everyone made it back, and replace them with stories here at home where everyone gets to take another breath and see their families again.
But we must not forget those who didn’t make it home. And we must mourn our losses on behalf of our military families, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who carry the burden of war for all of us.
This Fourth of July, I’ll be thinking about a brother-in-arms, 18-year old Pvt. Errol Milliard. He was hit by an RPG on July 4, 2013, four years ago. He died a hero.
His story motivates me every day to give nothing but the best and to strive for excellence.
Most of us in San Antonio have some connection to the military. I challenge you to find a story to tell this Fourth of July of a hero you knew and the family he or she left behind. And to never forget that we live in the land of the free because of the brave.