Hunt County had some very special guests this past Sunday afternoon, although you most likely never knew they were here … and that’s OK.
I would not have known either except for the fact that one member of this group is the son of a Hunt County deputy.
They came and went without much fanfare or public awareness at all for that matter. For this group of people, that is not an uncommon occurrence.
The hot summer sun of last Sunday afternoon joined with Aunt Char’s and the Greenville Sportspark to play host to a combat engineering battalion of the U.S. army.
It was just another yearly event for these men and women who enjoyed some barbecue, a flag football game and some stress-free moments with their families.
This year’s event, however, carried with it a much different tone. You see, the young men and women of this reserve battalion will be deployed very soon; and this was their last chance to all be together with their families before the intense training that precedes their journey.
For many this journey is their first. For others, one careful look in their eyes revealed that it was not.
Volunteers from Alliance Bank provided some needed refreshment, Greenville Mayor Tom Oliver stopped by to welcome them to Greenville as did Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks. I shared in this honor as well.
There was the occasional speech from company commanders and the distribution of information to families. Mostly though, it was time spent with friends and family.
There were a lot of introductions, handshakes and, yes, even hugs. The playground was full of moms, dads and children running and laughing. There were, however, very few uniforms. As a matter of fact, they didn’t look much like soldiers at all. They looked just like the people we see at the store or at our churches.
I couldn’t help but notice two beautiful twin girls on the swing set as mom and dad gave careful watch, and an occasional push. I couldn’t help but be amazed that, at least for this moment, the reality of what awaits all of them seemed years away … lost in the bright sunshine, wispy clouds and laughter of children.
I couldn’t help but wonder if we don’t far too often take for granted the freedom we enjoy. We have all heard “freedom isn’t free,” but it is somehow different when you look straight into the face of freedom and watch it walk away with a small child on each hand.
It has been an honor that defies description to have had the privilege to help lead more than one procession of a returning young hero from Majors Field. These are they who have paid the ultimate price.
As I drove along, I have seen literally thousands of you lining the streets and highways holding American flags, standing with hands over your hearts. As I stood in the bright sun last Sunday, I realized that the same heroes we met at the airport once shared some barbecue, watched their children swing, and enjoyed a game of flag football with their friends.
I have also had the opportunity to accompany an Army chaplain to make such a notification to a family. I freely admit that I for one am unworthy of the sacrifice made by so many.
None of our lives are untouched by the sacrifice of those who have served in our armed forces. Most of our families have been forever changed by the cost of freedom.
Through the years the “cost” may have been a loved one who came home with a diminished physical capacity, some who came home with nightmares that refused to end, some who came home to a nation who didn’t appreciate them as they should, and some who didn’t come home at all.
I’m looking forward to summer; then comes the fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the end of another year. I realize that while I am enjoying all of these moments, the young people I just met will be making themselves ready, and then board an aircraft to deliver them to their temporary home.
The same feet that ran through the grass last Sunday with arms raised wanting someone to pass them the football, will trade their tennis shoes for boots. And because of their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of countless others before them, I can wake up in a country where I am free to express my opinions and worship as I choose.
I’m quite sure “thank you” is not enough. Nonetheless, captain, 1st sergeant and all the officers, non-comms, enlisted soldiers, as well as their wives, children, relatives, moms and dads; and to all who have served our nation, current and past, thank you.
No greater love has a man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Knight is Hunt County undersheriff and chaplain.