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GROUND ZERO PLUS 1197 DAYS,--New York, NY, Wednesday, December 22, 2004--The bells of Christmas peal, and from their tintinnabulation spills the blood of warriors fighting for the freedom of others.

Christmas in combat is a reminder of how fragile freedom is

I've spent Christmas in combat. It isn't a warm, exuding experience that promises peace and joy upon the world. Instead, it is a reminder of how fragile freedom is.

We often take freedom for granted. Especially when we are far from the sounds of mortars spewing into mess tents or a suicide bomber detonating and splattering body parts in 360 degrees.

It is easy for us who sit six thousand miles away from Iraq or any combat zone in any far distant land, and castigate the horrors of war, perhaps even protest against the "waste" of human life for what some might find nebulous reasons.

But then those of us who have been in combat on Christmas, and who have chosen to be there rather than forced to fight through conscription, realize that the right to believe in a certain way and to have a forum to stand up for that belief that does not create draconian reprisals such as exist in a tyrannical government that forces upon people specific belief systems, is worth fighting for.

It is hard for many to believe that American troops fighting in Iraq are enjoying one of the greatest possible Christmas gifts imaginable--the knowledge they are risking their lives so a child might one day be free of tyranny and oppression.

Christmas is for children. It is their time to materialize the magic of belief, represented by a gift under a sparkling tree. While many cultures do not recognize Christmas because of its Christian roots, they have a day in which the magic of belief comes to life for the children.

There are such holidays in every culture, where a child's eyes bulge as the gift or gifts shimmer in the light, begging to be opened.

When parents witness their children's glowing eyes on Christmas, they can't help but wish for them the greatest of all gifts: freedom

It is this moment when parents smile deeply, wishing upon their child the greatest of all gifts--the freedom to be who they are, who they can become.

This gift cannot be achieved when someone dictates to a child what that child will believe, or how that child will act or not act, or what that child will learn and not learn.

Freedom is the biggest of all gifts, the grandest of all, and, the most dangerous of all. It involves a sense of duty and responsibility to insure it will available to the next child, and the next. It is a gift that one cannot keep, for those who hoard freedom are Terrorists, denying the rights of freedom to the next generation.

Freedom can only prosper when it is given to one, and then passed on to another. It is in the giving of freedom to another that the gift of its true essence is felt. The paradox of freedom is that only by giving it away can it be kept.

When we hear the Christmas bells...

In Iraq, Americans are dying daily to give the gift of freedom to others. They received that gift and opened it, enjoyed the fruits of its magnificent tree, and now, they have wrapped it up and are offering it to the Iraqi people--specifically, to the children.

...it may be hard to see the value of our presence in Iraq

When we hear the bells of Christmas ringing, and our eyes scan the headlines of American deaths, or, we hear the news of even more tragic causalities mounting in a land that does not even believe in Christmas, for some, it may be hard to see the value of our presence in Iraq.

The ringing bells and the shedding of blood is for -- freedom

But if one realizes that we are there to offer the great "gift" of freedom, and, for many of Americans that is represented by Christmas, then perhaps the reason we are in Iraq and fighting for the rights of others may rise above the rants and raves of those who call our presence there a "waste" or denigrate the purpose of giving American lives so that others may taste freedom.

I know when I open my Christmas presents this year I will see the faces of our troops in Iraq smiling as they hand to the children of that nation a glistening package of freedom.

So if the bells ring and the blood of Americans pour, it is not for naught. It is for the greatest gift of all--freedom.


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