Oxford native Matt Redding leaves Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan this week, a month early after serving 11 months on a NATO Command tour. As Commanding Officer for the Region Support Command – Southwest, he supported the efforts of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. Col. Redding was commissioned in the United States Army and has filled a wide variety of assignments with the 82nd Airborne Division, 3rd Infantry Division, and the 101st Airborne Division, among others. His current mission was to help develop the Afghan police and army forces to allow them to take on more of their own security in the years to come. This is the last article in a weekly series he has penned for The Evening Sun.
By Col. Matt Redding
HELMAND and NIMROZ PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN – “Sir, what are you listening to?” asked one of my staff as I stood outside our headquarters.
“The sounds of freedom,” I replied.
I am able to imagine the streets in Chenango County being lined with flags as the weather begins to warm beyond spring and feel like summer. Students in school will have a long weekend and begin to think about their Regents exams fast approaching in June. The green valleys of home will be flush with the anticipation of the summer and freedom from school and schedules. Speeches on Memorial Day will focus on freedom as a concept, ideal, and cause, but as I stood in the dusty, mid-morning heat of Camp Leatherneck I was struck by the fact that freedom has a “sound” as well. What does freedom sound like on this Memorial Day? The sound is different, and depending on what you do for this national holiday, they could be happy, awesome and sad.
Freedom sounds like the crack of a baseball hitting the wooden bat and the collective intake of breath from the entire stadium crowd as the ball heads toward the left field fence. Freedom is the sound of children playing in the community pool as it opens at the front end of a summer holiday. Freedom sounds like the school band in a small town parade where the veterans, fire and police departments march down the street toward the park. Flags snap in the breeze and people clap as they celebrate those who serve the community. The sounds of a back yard barbecue drift into my mind as well. Music on the radio and hamburgers on the grill make for a wonderful testimony to freedom as families and neighbors gather to share a meal. These are the happy sounds of freedom that we should relish without regret.
Freedom can generate inspiring sounds that thrill the heart and inspire the mind. The closing stanza of the national anthem sung boldly as military jets shred the air over an open race track thrills all the hearts of Americans. Here, freedom is the sound of race car engines that roar to life with adrenaline-fueled power. Freedom can take the form of a powerful speech delivered in Gettysburg or on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, causing us to look inward and outward to fulfill a dream. Freedom can also be the soft chirp of birds and the crackle of a mountain stream that runs peacefully by a mountain trail. Freedom is the sound of power and peace that can awe crowds into stillness or action.
Freedom is also the sound of a musket fired at Concord, the sounds of a shrill whistle in the Somme, and the engines of a Navy plane over Midway Island. The sad sounds of freedom include the cries of wounded men, the fall of bombs on cities, and the lonely notes of a bugle played over a soldier’s grave. Personally, I will always remember the sounds of freedom that took the form of a mother’s sobbing voice as she read to me the last letter from her only son who died under my command in Iraq. The tears from her face made no sound as they soaked into my shoulder.
On this Memorial Day the sounds of freedom swirl around me in a strange chorus of notes. The cargo planes in the distance, the machine gun range down the street, and the sound heavily armored vehicles creaking by as they head to the maintenance bay. There is a warm wind today that makes very little sound, but it’s enough to hold the United States Flag high over headquarters.
For those of us deployed, we hope that you find time to enjoy the happy and awesome sounds of freedom on this day. We all pray you will continue to support those who bear the sadness and sacrifice needed to preserve our way of life. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.
God bless America.