FORT LEWIS, Wash. - I still remember the first time I saw his eyes - dark, deep, but full of pride, staring straight at my husband in his Stryker vehicle as if he were a soldier himself, lifting his pointer finger in the middle of the Mosul streets and proudly displaying the black ink on the pad of that finger.

For the first time, that Iraqi man voted. You could read the freedom all over his face.

I don't often take time to look at that picture my husband sent me of the Iraqi referendum he was a part of on October 15, 2005. But I don't have to look to remember. The image is burned in my brain, I hope, forever.

It's the image I recall when people tell me that my husband has done no good during his three deployments to support the global war on terrorism.

It's the image I recall when people tell me that his sacrifices are meaningless and that the lives he's touching could care less about the things he's forfeited to be there.

And it's the image I recall when people tell me that they forgot to vote, didn't take time to vote or didn't make it a priority to vote here in the United States on election day.

If only they realized how precious that privilege really was.

Of course, I understand that as professional nomads, it sometimes takes us military folk a little more work than the more stationary civilian population to hit the polls. That's because we have to first figure out where we're registered. If our home of record is in Alaska, but we own a home in Washington and we first registered to vote in Ohio, where on earth do we send our ballots'

It took me an entire week to track down our voting location in Alaska and apply for absentee ballots.

But the truth is, if we who are married to those who protect and defend our voting freedoms don't take the time and effort to cast our ballots, no matter how inconvenient that might be, why should anyone else'

Ever since my husband served in Iraq to provide a safe election environment for an entire country of people who had no idea what democracy, voting or choice were all about, I've taken my right to vote a lot more seriously. It's now a priority to vote in a whole lot more elections than the meager two I shamefully participated in before sending that military man off to war.

Voting is this incredibly special opportunity we have in this country, and when we fail to take advantage of it, we spit in the faces of all those who fought and died to ensure the kind of freedom and choice we enjoy here in the United States.

When we fail to vote, we take for granted the sacrifices of so many who paid with their blood for us to wake up on election day and cast a vote, not because our religious organization made us do so, not because our cultural organization made us do so, but because our country allows us to make decisions about its future.

That kind of freedom is the kind of freedom I catch glimpses of in the eyes of the man in my husband's picture - the kind of freedom that I imagine he waited in many long lines to experience that first election day. The kind of freedom I'm confident he will never take for granted.

Thank God that people like my husband make that possible every single day. Honor their sacrifices. Vote on Tuesday.

Fort Lewis Army wife Michelle Cuthrell is the author of Behind the Blue-Star Banner: A Memoir from the Home Front (www.behindthebluestarbanner.com). She is a regular contributor to Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Thu October 30th, 2008 at 15:53