Written by Dawn McDaniel, Founder and CEO of Bravo Delta Coaching
I recall feeling such relief when my husband, Jeff, and I left active duty. Finally, I could take a deep breath and plan…well, anything that I wished to. It was thrilling to decide on a whim to visit a museum in another state, or plan an overnight surprise for my family. We were finally able to enjoy true freedom, the very thing we had served to protect.
It’s funny how easily freedom is taken for granted. Before I joined the Army, I had an understanding of freedom but didn’t fully appreciate it. Living through the Cold War as a child, I knew I was fortunate to have a choice of what to do with my life, where to live and what occupation to pursue, and I loved that.
A new respect for freedom
It wasn’t until my life’s path led me to serve in the Army that I really began to understand and appreciate freedom. The military is an institution of respect, discipline, and pride. There are also strict rules to adhere to. Basic training gave me my first taste of what it was like to live without freedom. I was told when to eat, sleep, workout, do work, do laundry, and make phone calls. Basically, my entire existence was dictated during these weeks of training.
Though I was learning the culture of the military, I was actually learning so much more about what it means to be free. While I had a strong sense of pride in my country prior to my service, my military experience built my awareness of freedom and what it feels like to not have it.
Sacrifices for freedom
Back in 1998, when I was stationed at Camp Humphreys, Korea, I had my first real experience with what it means to live without freedom. I wanted to visit Chejudo Island, just off the southern coast of South Korea. After all, when would I ever have the chance to visit that island again? Plus, I joined the military, in part, to see the world. I was still new to the Army and had very little rank or privileges at the time. While I could move about Camp Humphreys with ease, I was restricted from traveling beyond the local area.
Most of the time, the restriction barely crossed my mind. I had plenty of work to fill my days, and there was usually something interesting happening on post. However, as time marched on, I began to grow restless with the day to day within the six-mile parameter. I desperately wanted to see the Korean countryside and get a better sense of the country I called home for over 15 months.
I had been in Korea for over six months when I begin to inquire about a special pass that would allow me to visit Chejudo Island. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Efforts I made to obtain a pass were denied based on an increased threat from North Korea. This increased threat immediately sent all the soldiers in Korea into high alert. Suddenly, we were not allowed to be seen off post in our uniform and we were required to down play that we were Americans, such as no American flags on t-shirts or bags.
It was eerie to experience the change in environment. The tensions were high among the soldiers, and the uncertainty was palpable. The real life threat that North Korea could decimate and control the country we were there to defend enlightened me to the true benefits of freedom.
When I finally came back to the states, I was thrilled to experience the freedoms that had eluded me while serving in another country. I relished in the possibility of heading to the lake, going camping for the weekend, and seeing more of the American countryside. I thought, “Things will finally be different.” That I would have “true” freedom.
It was immediately obvious that, while I had the ability to see a concert in the next town over, I was also required to request permission from my immediate supervisor and provide an outline of my activities in excruciating detail. These requirements, along with the act of requesting permission, really put a damper on being spontaneous! Gone were the days of deciding mid afternoon that I would drive 200 miles to visit a friend or see an away football game. This is the second time I realized that freedom had a price. It wasn’t just the soldiers who laid down their lives in defense of our country. All the military service members who stand at the ready and prepare to defend our country on a moment’s notice also make the sacrifice.
While being spontaneous was a freedom I missed the most, I soon learned that this was not the only freedom I had sacrificed. I was also married to a special operations soldier. These soldiers, the best of the best, are required to be reachable any time, day or night. They are required to stay close to the post and remain within easy reach of all communications. Their mission is specific and determined by the ever-changing environment, immediate response is critical to their success. At first, it was exciting to be part of such an important mission; however, I quickly realized that remaining within easy reach of all communications severely limited where we could go and what we could do.
Near our home at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, there were two lakes with a strip of land between them. This was a great location to get away and relax. It also had great boating, fishing, and hiking. It was a virtual paradise for a young couple looking to stay active and enjoy each other’s company. Despite the close proximity to our home, we were rarely able to take advantage of this resource. It was 1999, and there were still very few mobile phone towers in the area. Traveling the mere 20 miles or so violated Jeff’s requirement to remain in constant contact with the unit. It seemed so simple…a quick fishing trip on an early Saturday morning. However, the work we committed to was important and we understood the sacrifices required to protect our country’s freedom as a whole.
I am grateful for my time in the military, for it taught me so much about freedom and how fortunate we are to have it. It is funny that the people who fight to maintain our freedom every day rarely have the chance to experience it fully. Freedom isn’t free, least of all for the service members who give up so many of their own personal freedoms to ensure that the rest of us have continued access to them.
What does freedom mean to you? How would your concept and appreciation for freedom change if you did not have it for a time? What can you do to honor those who sacrifice each day to protect our freedoms?
Dawn McDaniel, a graduate of the EBV-F and V-WISE-Baltimore, is founder and CEO of Bravo Delta Coaching and empowers military families to redefine their lives and celebrate change through personal and professional coaching. She specializes in military transitions of all varieties and has a passion for raising awareness surrounding the sacrifices made by the military family. Email her or visit her website.