National anthems offer time for reflection

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- At 4:45 p.m. every day, the sounding of retreat rings in our ears and we stand at attention as the anthems of our two great nations play over the giant voice at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
I use this time to reflect on my experiences while deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, serving at the Craig Joint Theatre Hospital, also known as Task Force Med. 

Our medical center, unfortunately, saw way too many casualties, but as amazing as it
sounds, if you were wounded and came into our facility, you had a 98 percent survival rate. 

That amazing statistic would not have been possible without the skills and training of the military medics at the forward operating bases, and many people owe their lives to these men and women. 

For all the good we accomplished, we unfortunately saw many human tragedies at the hands of our enemy combatants. 

When one of our own passed and made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, we would receive a notification that a Fallen Comrade Ceremony would take place. This is where we would have the opportunity to pay our last respects. 

If you have never experienced this type of ceremony first hand, my description of the event will probably fall dramatically short, but I will try my best. 

As the event draws near, uniformed Bagram AB inhabitants line up on the sides of the street, known as Disney Drive, (no, it is not named after Walt.) Everyone gets there early as it gets crowded rather quickly. 

As you stand there in silence, waiting for the procession to approach, there is an eerie hush over the thousand or so Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine patrons waiting to pay their last respects. You think about the person lying in the casket and you hope their family has the strength and support to deal with the tragedy. 

A military police vehicle moves slowly down the street leading a convoy with its lights flashing red, white and blue as if in tribute to the fallen soul. 

As the flatbed approaches, people stand taller, chests stick out farther and salutes become sharper than the ones they learned in basic training. 

On one particular evening, as I stood there standing with my fellow comrades, our M-16's slung over our shoulders, I saw something I did not expect to see, two caskets with American flags and one with a Polish flag. 

In a single instance of clarity, I was reminded that the fight against terror is not one burdened by American's alone. Our fight to maintain the freedom we love is shared by many nations across the globe. 

We should take comfort and feel proud that many nations have similar values as we do and share many of the same beliefs. They too understand far too well that freedom does not come free. 

So as you stand there, listening to our two great anthems, I ask you to reflect on our brothers and sisters of all free nations that have come and gone, of the ones still fighting the good fight right now, and that you pray in your own way for their safe and speedy return.