Independence Day in Afghanistan

The 4th of July holds a sacred meaning in this Nation, as we come together to celebrate our freedom and honor the Founding Fathers who boldly declared and fought to ensure the young country’s independence.  Coincidentally, two of those men – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson- — both died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

Daniel Webster was called upon to eulogize the two former presidents at a service in Boston a month after their deaths.   He encouraged the crowd to honor the liberty granted to them by Adams and Jefferson, saying, “let us cherish a strong affection for it, and resolve to maintain and perpetuate it. The blood of our fathers, let it not have been shed in vain; the great hope of posterity, let it not be blasted.”

His words still resonate today.  Every member of the Armed Forces, military and civilian, has resolved to maintain and perpetuate our liberty.  And we have a responsibility to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by millions of brave men and women who have served throughout our history.  Independence Day is not only a celebration, but a reminder that freedom is never free.

— Notes from Lieutenant General Tom Bostick, US Army, Chief of Engineers

Many of my friends and readers know me for my work with EpicPew.com, writing online with choice Catholic websites, and my book Filling Our Father’s House. Few know that I served in the Air Force for a time and even fewer realize that I’m currently serving in Afghanistan.

I joined on the 4th of July, 2005. I didn’t plan that, it just happened to be the day I was sent to Basic Training. I remember getting yelled at, head to toe, at Lackland Air Force Base while the people of San Antonio were enjoying their 4th of July fireworks. I grinned. Serving exactly 4 years, I also was honorably discharged from the Air Force on the same day years later. Service in the Air Force was one of the best decisions of my life. It afforded me the opportunity to grow professionally and personally. Because of my time in the Air Force I was able to earn four degrees in 8 years, better learn how to lead, and how to genuinely care for others.

When I got out of the Air Force, I thought I was done with the Government. I had earned my Undergraduate degree in Aeronautics, focusing in Aviation Management, and taking many side-electives in Christian studies. Those studies eventually led me to the Catholic Church, and the rest led me to a career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I found my time in the Air Force worthwhile and satisfying, but there was a huge piece of me that wanted more time around the men and women in uniform, to give back to my county that has continually given to me.

A couple years ago I expressed to my wife my desire to deploy. Both of my brothers had deployed and I’m a fifth generation veteran of the Armed Forces. Something was missing in my career; I has always wanted to deploy with the Air Force but never got the chance. It was never about the danger or the element of prestige. For me, it was about the experience and personal accouterments that comes with serving overseas. My friends and family who’ve deployed always said, “it’s the worst job you’ll ever hate, and the best job you’ll ever love.” Timing was never right to deploy, but in March 2015, it was. I was offered the opportunity to go to Afghanistan for a tour, serving with the Transatlantic Afghanistan District in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The decision was simple, but leaving was not. I was astonished to find that some friends totally resisted my decision, making me feel like less of a dad and husband. Another few people cut me off completely, citing I was joining an “unjust war.”

With the full support of my wife, I arrived in Afghanistan in late May 2015. I’ve experienced a lot in just a short amount of time. Here’s a few notable items:

  • We still have the most superior Armed Forces personnel on the planet, bar none. We are very capable.
  • Our enemy is persistent. There is still a very clear threat to uniformed and civilian personnel here, and the media doesn’t discuss much of it at all.
  • Being away from home is so much more difficult in these circumstances that I realized it would be.
  • Everything from my home Parish, to my evening lifestyle and daily routines makes being here a challenge. Mass is much different. Confession times are not regular. I miss wine and my own sheets. Everything is dusty and I’m always sick.
  • Celebrating Mass with people from 15 other countries is an incredible feeling.
  • The priests here are hardcore. Nuff said!

The 4th of July offers us the chance to reflect on our freedom and our beloved country. With the developments of the last decade, especially the current administration, it might seem difficult for many to feel any sense of patriotism. I take a lot of comfort in viewing my country in the lens of my Catholic faith.

In the Catholic faith, we have rules. Paradoxically, we believe in a freedom that can cripple if abused or misused, much like Free Will. It gives us the power to bless, corrupt, save, and sin. When our country chooses to abuse its power over the Natural Law, it provokes the corruptibility and sinful natures in us. This great country has an unbelievable amount of freedom, still, and a sacred sense of justice and compassion, among many other facets.

Similarly, our Church at times has disappointed us. When a leader takes the Moral Law into their own hands and abuses that, they lead people to the slaughter. It’s plain and simple. Our Church and our country are at this crux. Many people would have you and me believe that this is the hardest time in the history of our country, but that’s hardly so. I can count rapidly on one hand the generations of Americans I am glad I was not born into. The uncertainly of the Civil War. The guts of the Revolution. The confusion of Vietnam amidst a plethora of corrupted groups running the country. The turmoil of the First and Second World Wars.

I know that we live in a very sophisticated time. Everything from the technology we use, the way we sin, the way we evangelize, and the culture we are fighting, would cause us to lose heart. These are all serious matters, but we have something worth protecting and persevering through. Every single day I greet and work next to young men from Afghanistan who have no sense of freedom or country the way we do. I asked one of them once if they had ever been to America. The 28 year old replied, “It would be my greatest ambition.”

“Why’s that?”

He just shrugged and grinned as if the answer was quite obvious.

“What would you do in America?”

“Study…”

What you don’t know about this man is that he has 4 kids under 6 years old, his wife does not work, and he is a janitor. He also has one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen.

What Americans have, which very few people in the world do not, is a decision to make their country what they would like it to be and very real choice for their own future. I think many are losing sight of this. They can’t. We cannot lose sign of this. Just as with America, we cannot ever lose sight of the foundational principles of our Creed, and what they mean.

A Father who is in control.

A Mother who can help us become Saints.

A Son who gives us an inheritance.

A faith that is solitary and unchangeable.

A faith is universal to all the souls who embrace it.

A faith that is unblemished from the lips of Christ.

A faith that offers forgiveness, a true novelty among religions.

A faith with a family.

A faith with hope in the resurrection, and the future of this world and the next.

Our faith and our country are sacred and we should remember that as much as they have in common, they complement each other. Today, I’m still proud to be an American and a Catholic. Today, and every day, I’ll live my life in service to defend the beliefs of both.

image: Afghanistan (April 18, 2004) – Battalion Landing Team Chaplain, Navy Lt. John Hoke, holds mass for several members attached to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, the ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (special operations capable) in south-central Afghanistan. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Robert A. Sturkie / Wikimedia Commons

Shaun McAfee

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Shaun McAfee was raised Protestant but at 24, he experienced a profound conversion to the Catholic Church with the writings of James Cardinal Gibbons and modern apologists. He is the author of Filling Our Father’s House (Sophia Institute Press) among other books, and holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology. As a profession, Shaun is a veteran and warranted Contracting Officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has served in Afghanistan and other overseas locations. He devotes his time to teaching theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, co-owner of En Route Books and Media, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and lives in Omaha, NE.

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  • Lee

    Ok, I’m former Russian and many of my friends died in Afganistan in 1982. I know everything about Afganistan and nothing about America because I’ll never be American. This is soothing. It’s better to be a good Asian than a bad American.

  • 1Indioviejo1

    Shaun, I respect your service and your patriotism. While you were in Afghanistan, did it ever occur to you that we are fighting a Satanic cult? The 1st thing you should have learned before deploying is all about ISLAM. Did you read Mohammed’s biography written by his companions in the VIII Century? How about the Haddith, or the Koran. You should of read it if only to understand why we can not help them. 1st we need to convert them into dust if they can’t see the light. There is no compromise with evil and ISLAM was founded as a Satanic cult. We need to educate our people and the world itself as to the evil totalitarian ideology called ISLAM. It is worse than Nazism, or Communism and surely it is the fight for the survival of our Judeo-Christian faith.

  • Gabriel Gonzalez

    Awesome photo! Shaun, thank you for your service and dedication to the greatest force in the world – the Catholic Church Militant! And also your service in the Air Force. I think the huge gap between that happy uneducated janitor/father friend of yours and the lazy “entitlement” mentality of the adult/boys we have in America is that lack of historical pride in our country. We are so much more blessed than the men of previous generations that it’s hard to instill values like perseverance and sacrafice. God bless you, your wife and kids and all your brothers in arms. God bless America. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

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