Independence Day: Kurd reflects on freedom
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Zamawang Almemar poses for a photo on Fort Carson next to a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, once her biggest fear when living in Kurdistan, Iraq.

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- He kissed me on my forehead and said, "I don't know if I'll ever see you again, but I have to go and fight for our freedom."

It was at that moment I realized the true meaning of the word "freedom," the reason for all the bloodshed, and why I may never see my brother again.

The year was 1991, when the Kurdish uprising was taking place. It was when every Kurd from Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, was fighting for their freedom against a regime that did not think twice about slaughtering its own people, causing mass genocide. Under Saddam Hussein's regime, enlisting in the military was not a voluntary act -- it was mandatory -- and those who refused were hanged. During his ruling, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people were murdered, tortured and chemically bombed. Being tired of his regime, the Kurds took to the mountains, the only friends they knew had their backs, to stand up and fight for their independence.

Prior to the Kurdish uprising, and while our cities were being bombed by Saddam, my family and I sought refuge for days under a tree on the side of the road leading to the eastern border, along with thousands of other Kurds fleeing their homes. As I lay there on the ground, cold and barely holding on to life, the only thing separating me from the soaked grass being a wet tarp, there was only one thing that kept me alive -- hope. Hope that someday Saddam would be gone and we would be free. Hope that my brother would come back and for us to live like a "normal" family with no fear.

In 1996 the regime had announced Saddam's leave-or-die decree for the Kurds working with their American counterparts. Upon his return from fighting a war, my brother started working with an American humanitarian organization that later helped us escape the tyranny of the regime. Arriving in Guam in 1997, there was only one place to relocate the many Kurds facing the atrocities of the regime, and that was Andersen Air Force Base. That was my first up-close and personal introduction to the American uniform. With the servicemembers smiling back at me, the only English phrase I knew to communicate back to them was, "Thank you."

It was then I began to understand what it is that makes the United States of America one of the most powerful nations in the world. It is not the millions of people that mutually coexist despite their cultural differences, it is the strength of the American military, and the resilience of the American servicemember. Enlisting voluntarily in the military, he stands ready to sacrifice his life in the name of freedom. And for someone who knows the meaning of that term all too well, I know that is no small price to pay.

The strength of the American military became especially evident to me while I was volunteering with Army Community Service at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, where we first touched down onto American soil after leaving Guam and received a warm welcome from the Soldiers.

Today, walking around the corridors of the Pentagon, one of the most powerful institutions in my opinion, I get overwhelmed with the strength of the American military. There is an unbreakable bond between all the branches of the military, which extends to building relationships with war-torn countries such as Iraq.

Having mastered the English language, there is still only one phrase that comes to mind that captures my sense of gratitude toward the military for saving my country and its people from the most violent criminal, and that is "Thank you."

As we celebrate Independence Day with friends and family, let us not forget the Soldiers in and out of uniform, serving at home or overseas. Let us also celebrate the lives of those Soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting their country and freeing another. No matter what corner of the globe we come from, we are all fighting for the same cause, freedom. If each one of us takes on a responsibility and plays the role of a counter-terrorist, I'm certain that, in time, we can win this war against terrorism and allow more countries to get a taste of freedom.

Page last updated Wed July 3rd, 2013 at 13:05