Every year on the Fourth of July, the Austin neighborhood where I live has a fairly extensive parade. It’s about as all-American a scene as you can imagine: flags, classic cars, little kids riding on their parents’ shoulders, the smoky scent of backyard barbecues. Usually there’s at least one person dressed up like the Statue of Liberty. This year, as I march through the streets with my kids, I’ll be thinking about the men and women of the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, who returned to Fort Bliss, in El Paso, on the Friday before Memorial Day, after nine months in Afghanistan. This was the brigade’s fourth deployment since 2007; the previous three had been to Iraq. The 48 soldiers who came home that day had been part of a group of 300 dispatched to advise Afghan security forces. When they arrived at Fort Bliss, photographer Joe Pugliese was there to capture their reunions with their families (“At War’s End”). His photos are small portraits of joy and relief, but it is impossible to look at them and not imagine the sorrow of those whose soldiers never come home. So as I stroll in my Independence Day parade, I’ll be thinking of those families too.
I’ll also be thinking of Staff Sergeant Christopher Schwope, a Boerne native whom senior editor John Spong wrote about this month in “The Long Return.” Schwope, whose infantry unit was part of the force that captured Saddam Hussein in 2003, suffered from depression after his return. Once the bunting came down and the fanfare ended, the hard work of resuming civilian life commenced, and, like a lot of veterans, Schwope struggled with the transition. I’ll think of him, and I’ll think of Matt Cook, who fought in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Matt wrote about his experiences in Iraq for texas monthly back in 2008. Since then he’d moved on—he became a successful screenwriter and got married. But last year he found himself casting about at loose ends, feeling disconnected from his life. One day he called up his old battalion commander to ask if he could embed with them. Like a lot of soldiers who make it home safely, he wanted to go back. So he did. The powerful account of his return trip, “The Call of Battle.”
All these moments—the arrival of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division; the struggles of Staff Sergeant Schwope; the soul-searching of Matt Cook—are just a few points in the unfathomably large network of service and survival and sacrifice represented by our armed forces. Here in Texas, where we have more active-duty military than any other state, that network is everywhere, a part of our culture and a presence in our communities. This month—and all months—every one of us should be thinking about it.