It’s Staff Sgt. Edgar Covarrubias’ second Fourth of July in Iraq. No family barbecue, no fireworks, but Covarrubias says he’ll call his mom, wife and kids to share the day anyway.
Across Iraq, America’s Independence Day was a normal work day for most U.S. troops. But the military threw in a taste of home at larger bases with ribs, corn on the cob and red, white and blue cake.
The holiday is even leaner at smaller outposts closer to the violence, where it comes with a can of meat, some cookies and a job not yet done.
“We are not going to stop our operations to celebrate the Fourth of July,” said Sgt. Mark Johnson, 26, at a small joint U.S.-Iraqi outpost in the city of Iskandariyah, some 30 miles south of Baghdad.
“Nothing special is planned for today and that’s OK because we didn’t expect anything,” added the 3rd Infantry Division soldier from Waterport, N.Y.
He heads home later this month on his mid-tour break to be with his girlfriend when she gives birth to their first child.
‘It is the same every day’
At least things were quiet Friday at the outpost, giving the men who weren’t on duty time to watch movies on their laptops and instant message with friends back home.
“It is the same every day since we got here in October,” said 1st Lt. William Kuebler, 24, who is nine months into his 15-month tour in Iraq.
“The holidays are not important,” added the 101st Airborne Division officer from Moville, Iowa.
Special food and football
Things were a bit more festive at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. There was a special menu in the chow hall and a three-on-three basketball tournament.
Before hitting the court, Covarrubias from the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment planned to call his wife and kids and also his mom to wish her a happy birthday.
“If I was home, I’d get together with my family and barbecue, and we’d have carne asada, a family reunion,” said Covarrubias.
But the 29-year-old from Hawthorne, Calif., said that although he misses his family, the holiday still made him feel good.
“For me, on the Fourth of July, you remember there’s people out there that think about you out here,” said Covarrubias.
Others choose to re-enlist
For others, the day was a reminder of their duty to their country.
At Camp Victory outside Baghdad, 1,215 troops from the Army, Marines and other services re-enlisted in a mass swearing-in ceremony led by top U.S. war commander Gen. David Petraeus. At least two husband-and-wife couples were among those signing up for another military stint.
Before an immense American flag hung in the rotunda of the palace headquarters of the U.S. military in Iraq, the troops saluted Petraeus, then sang “God Bless America.”
Back at Warhorse, Sgt. Jacob Fultz, 22, of Gardner, Kan., was focused on the day’s meaning.
“It’s kind of like the fight’s never over,” said Sgt. Jacob Fultz, 22, from Gardner, Kan. “It started on July 4, 1776 and now it’s 2008.”