This 4th of July is Different


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I spent July 4, 2009 and July 4, 2010 in Baghdad, Iraq. I was not there serving as a member of the military or the foreign service, but as the lead for Vice President Biden’s Advance Team.

My job was to arrive in Baghdad with a staff team, Secret Service and military personnel ahead of the Vice President (and in 2010, Dr. Biden), to work logistics and negotiations with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the Commanding General and staff, and the Iraqi government.

Vice President Biden’s visits were mainly business orientated: Meetings with Ambassador Hill, General Odierno and any special envoys who were in country, greeting embassy workers, and meetings with Iraqi heads of government.

But the 4th of July was reserved for U.S. troops. The mornings started with a greeting and breakfast with the servicemembers who worked at the JVB Hotel at Camp Victory. After that, the Vice President headed to Al Faw Palace to preside over one of the most moving ceremonies I’ve ever seen: a Naturalization Ceremony for active duty military. On both occasions, about 200 servicemembers were sworn in as American citizens, after serving their adopted country in uniform. And this happened inside one of the former palaces of Saddam Hussein.

Photo of troops in a ceremony

Following the ceremony, we visited a dining facility at lunch time to eat with the troops. This was always scheduled for about an hour, but the VP did not leave until he had spoken with and taken pictures with every single person there—we couldn’t pull him away. The soldiers were so excited to see him; they took group photos and gave him mementos like miniature T-Walls and unit t-shirts, and asked him to sign photos of their families. Some people were shy, but the VP would go up and give them a big handshake and hug anway.

The dining facilities were decked out in more red white and blue than I have ever seen in one place. It looked like a party, and there were some cook-outs going on, but it was easy to see this was not the way the soldiers would have preferred to spend their holiday. There were no boat rides, no kids running around with sparklers, no families spending time together, and the only fireworks were the kind no one wants—mortar fire.

Though parts of my job were challenging, nothing compared to what the servicemembers that supported our visits, and their families, were going through. I was there 10 days at a time; they were there more than a year—repeatedly. My parents and friends panicked every time they’d hear the Vice President was wheels down in Baghdad; they didn’t realize that being with someone like the VP is the safest you can be in a country like Iraq. Not so for servicemembers: they were the ones making it safe for us.

And they were so young. In my job working for the Vice President, I was occasionally told that I was young for someone with so much responsibility. But my youth and responsibilities were very little when compared to the troops my counterparts and I worked with.

My trips to Baghdad changed my life entirely. I saw first-hand the skills, competency, and bravery that those who serve exemplify every single day—whether there’s a VIP visitor coming or not. I saw only a small fraction of the sacrifice and hardship they face, and it changed the way I look at service.

The dedication and support my team received from the U.S. military while on these trips is what led me to this job at VA. I chose to leave the Vice President’s Office for the Department of Veterans Affairs because I wanted to help reach out to Veterans, to help VA communicate to the troops that are leaving Victory Base Camp and returning to the U.S. as Veterans. My goal is to support and serve them just like they supported the Vice President and my team as active duty military.

This 4th of July, I will be at a cookout stateside, and there will be family and fireworks; but I will be thinking about the servicemembers in Baghdad and the price that’s being paid by them in order for me to be able to celebrate Independence Day.

Author

Jessica Slider

Comments

  1. Ron Schlangen    

    Thank you for your service Jessica Slider. With the wisdom you gained from your visits to our troops, and might I say emotion charged moments you will never forget, I for one am thankful you have joined the Dept of Veterans Affairs. They are better because of it.

    You stated you want to reach out to these veterans in the making and communicate to them, support them, serve them as veterans. I hope I can contribute to that cause. The following links are stories on the 4th of July evening news about the Jr Honor Guard who marched in the parade. The Jr Honor Guard is children of deployed parents being honored while they march to honor their parents who are deployed. It’s just right!

    http://kstp.com/news/stories/S2184970.shtml?cat=1
    http://www.kare11.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=1038133838001&odyssey=mod|tvideo|article
    http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2011/07/04/chanhassen-parade-honors-military-children/
    http://www.kare11.com/news/article/929116/391/Young-honor-guard-parades-for-soldier-parents
    http://www.chanlegion.org/

  2. Major Doug Rokke, Ph.D    

    The 4th is our nation’s holiday and for our history it is signficant but our occupation and destruction of Iraq (and Afghanistan)contradicts the meaning and purpose of the events that shaped our nation and the documents laws that were created (Declaration of Independence 1776, Constitution 1787, Bill of Rights 1791)(http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/american-historical-documents.html). Iraq and never has and never will have any ability to threaten the suspension of our precious freedoms and those of us in the uniform or who have worn the uniform while serving in Iraq/Afghanistan never have and never will be actually protecting our precious freedoms. The human cost for our invasion and occupation of Iraq?afghanistan since 1990 has grown to over 1 million U.S. casualties with over 100,000 dead and all for nothing. Sadly, we continue to ignore the non-combatant casualties because we label them as less than human. This nonsense must end. Medical care is denied, delayed or ineffective for all and this must end. We must face our real history and cease our divine right of kings attitude towards the rest of the world.

  3. bob    

    Ge4e she goes over for an advance planning and is considered a hero. Maybe of she went outside the wire on a couple missions and took fire she might be more beleiveable. She sure as heck did not go to Afghanistan.
    PURE POLITICS.

  4. Nlck    

    This brings back to memory of when VP Quayle visited South Korea and how everyone came from miles or blocks away just to have a clance of an American Leader visiting US the force, the front line, the chosen. I only got a glimps as he stepped from the helicopter. I felt important and tho only a moment in time of my many military experiences it was one of those most memorable. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Joe Average Vet    

    Politician after Politician has learned to get elected they need the Veteran vote. So, in order to get elected they simply make promises to Veterans like, “I will reduce the VA disability backlog”. We Vets need to take the spin off this and see what the politicians have actually accomplished FOR Veterans. The current administration has make big promises to Veterans, such as reducing the disability claims backlog. The truth is the current administration has worsened the backlog, significantly. They have also decided that Veterans do not deserve a COLA, while VA and other government employees do, granting increases to government employees while leaving Veterans high and dry with no COLA for at least 2 years.
    Make no mistake. The current administration has made the Va claims backlog much worse, and has failed to even give Veterans even a COLA after 2 years. The current administration promises to Veterans have been unfullfilled resulting in a record 1,000,000 million Veterans in a “waiting list” for benefits. We need to remember this dishonor to troops at election time. Dont listen to political promises, but rather view the results. The current administration has simply given “lip service” to the troops, while looking the other way while the VA robs Veterans blind. Here is just one example of how the VA permits crooked attorneys to steal Veterans life savings and the VA “looks the other way”.
    http://www.vawatchdogtoday.org/
    Please read the article about Mr. Cleveland Burns, a disabled Veteran who has been literally robbed blind by the VA fiduciary system, while the politicians watch and profit from Veterns demise.

  6. Dan    

    So happy that you got a political message in for your political party. This has no place in a government published website.

    1. JOHN    

      What are you thinking about? An inspiring msg from someone who was able to share comments about the visit of our elected officials to our troops who stand in harm’s way every day for YOUR ability to express negative comments without any fear of reprecussions from anyone! You should bow your head in shame and gratitude!

    2. Stan Lukas    

      Dan, you’re the only one to politicize this page. Is it not permitted to chronicle the travels of a sitting Vice President? Jessica Slider gave us a well written account of her visits to Iraq with Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden. I appreciate her perspective.

  7. w;leinberger    

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience. Sometimes we forget that our soldiers work so hard and pay the ultimate price for our freedom at home. I do hope that our politician remember these soldiers and their sacrifice when they legislate. In the front line there are no Republican, Democrats or Independents just Brave Americans!!!
    GOD Bless American on this 4th of July!!

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