Freedom Is Not Free

Mr. Fleming serving in the Navy out in the Pacific Ocean (Photo courtesy of Tracey Fleming).

Mr. Fleming serving in the Navy out in the Pacific Ocean (Photo courtesy of Tracey Fleming).

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An average, reckless 17-year old, with his head held high, leaves the sparkling safe haven of New York to proceed into the perilous unknown of military service in the United States Navy. Sounds like the opening to a Hollywood war film, right? Guess again. This is the true and inspiring story of Brashier’s own Biology teacher, Mr. Fleming, along with his service to our country and advice to students. Most high school students are continuously bombarded with the dreaded question about what they are going to do after their required four years of state education and often feel as if they are slowly drowning in a sea of expectations.

“The pressure for me was what I was going to do after high school. I knew I didn’t have the money for college. I came from a broken family–my mother and father were divorced. I wanted to see the world and knew I wouldn’t get the opportunities like other kids,” says Mr. Fleming.

So why did this young New Yorker, fresh out of high school, decide to pay his dues to the red, white, and blue?

“Number one, I always felt compelled to serve because of my family history [in the military]. Also, my family couldn’t afford to send me off to college, and I think I would’ve wasted a lot of money going to a university straight out of high school. I needed the maturity,” says Fleming.

Naturally, some kids shudder from that monstrous four syllable word–maturity–yet it is an attribute we all must acquire during young adulthood that will faithfully serve us in the chaos of life.

“[The Navy] was a horse pill dose worth of maturity! I’m not late to things now; the military did that to me. [Also,] when you’re onboard a ship, you can’t afford to be unorganized. You can’t work with excess; you can live with little. [From the military, I learned to be] organized, disciplined, and realized that every decision I made affected everyone around me. [It takes] everyone to bring a Navy ship to life. The military breaks people down, but ultimately builds them back up to serve a purpose,” shares Fleming.

Thus, the military instills valuable life lessons that are visible in veterans to this day, but why should we, just young, acne-prone teenyboppers trying to figure out what in the world to do with our future, care about American patriotism in a generation where this value seems to be slowly fading?

“We need to be reminded of our past. Sometimes you need to struggle together as a country. [For example], the World War II generation was one of the greatest pieces of American fabric. Everybody stepped up. Young men cast their fates across the sea. This is the greatest country the world has ever produced, but it is beginning to corrode internally before our own eyes. All this [country] is an experiment, and, eventually, it may end,” says Fleming.

Indeed, war is quite an ugly beast that tests the limits of humanity’s durability and sanity, yet those fighting and at home are drawn closer by the pandemonium.

“Unfortunately, [there will always be war] with political, religious, and cultural differences; it’s human nature. It’s harder to maintain peace instead of going to war. There’s always going to be casualties. When somebody decides to go to war, it affects a whole lot more people than those fighting. Kids lose their mothers and fathers during war. You can’t really fill that hole,” comments Fleming.

That’s the true, heart-breaking reality of combat, and it’s often a difficult pill to swallow. As a participant in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or other branch of the military, you don’t always receive the Purple Heart and bask in the glory and honor your country willingly showers down, but don’t immediately cross joining the military off your post-high school plans.

“At the moment, we [America] were conceived, we’ve been under this umbrella of care. Even the poorest citizens in the United States live better than most of the world. We should serve to preserve that. Freedom is not free. Take the time to put your country first. There are friendships that can be formed and unique opportunities that can be gained. I’m somebody that can always say they have served [their country]. No regrets,” encourages Fleming.

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