Paying the price for freedom

Men and women of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.

Men and women of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, North Carolina --  Everyone comes from different walks of life. However, the people we meet, the opportunities we're given and the decisions we make are all determining factors that help shape our paths along the way.

For some, life is an often exhausting uphill climb from the start to finish. Even though they may struggle to persevere at times, occasionally failing to meet their desired goals, they have the inner determination to continue their journey toward success. For others, it's a downhill ride. These individuals breeze right through life and meet all of their personal objectives on the way.

Regardless of which one you are, each of our paths share a common variable- they're free to walk. We are free to make our own decisions and to take advantage or decline opportunities presented to us.

These freedoms were given to us by the generations of men and women who've fought and died to protect them. The path each of us walks may be our own, but the ability to forge that path has had a high cost for those who've laid down their lives for our freedom to do so.

If you're anything like me, you may have spent part of your life blissfully unaware of the sacrifices others have made on your behalf. Oftentimes, taking the inalienable rights afforded to us by the Constitution, for granted. Also overlooking the freedom fighters who made these rights possible instead of giving them the appreciation they rightfully earned and deserve.

Now, two years into my Air Force career, I am able to truly appreciate what it means to be free.

As a military photojournalist, I see things from a different perspective. My camera requires me to focus on the missions, people and stories in front of me. Because of this, I have finally been able to appreciate all the work our service members put into defending our nation's freedoms from all of its enemies.

I've come to realize that the backbone of our military is not technology or defense systems but the men and women whom I work with on a daily basis. Without their dedication to duty and continuous effort, those machines and technological marvels are just shiny pieces of metal.

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During my short time in the Air Force, I've had the opportunity to photograph and write about some spectacular individuals. Each of these Airmen, from the military working dog trainer who lost his leg in Afghanistan to the Tuskegee Airman who broke the race barrier in the military, have contributed to the bettering of society and the expansion of our nation's freedoms.

Despite the adversity some of our military members have endured, they continue to serve not just the military, but for the nation as a whole. They don't do it for the money, status or accolades, but because it needs to be done. Their selflessness and dedication has made a tremendous impact on me. Not everyone can serve in our nation's military, but these one percent of Americans, have taken it upon themselves to answer our nation's call as defenders of freedom and justice; our nations sword and shield.

As you prepare for a festive night of family, friends and fireworks, I challenge each of you to take time to reflect on all the brave service members who selflessly laid their lives, limbs and luxuries on the line in our nation's name. Think about the sacrifices both they and their family members make. Think about where we would be without them and remember that freedom doesn't come free.

I am proud my path led me to serve as an American Airman. I walk this path not just for myself, but also for more than 300 million people who rely on me for the freedom to walk their own.