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U.S. Marines, on the right side of the net, play against Polish forces during a Fourth of July volleyball tournament at Camp Babylon in Hillah, Iraq. The game was played along the Euphrates.
U.S. Marines, on the right side of the net, play against Polish forces during a Fourth of July volleyball tournament at Camp Babylon in Hillah, Iraq. The game was played along the Euphrates. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

CAMP BABYLON, Iraq — The day marking America’s independence brought a mixture of emotions to servicemembers in recently liberated Iraq.

“You think back to what got us this far,” said Staff Sgt. Jermaine Fizer, with the 1st Marine Division communications company. “It started in 1776.”

Fizer paused on the Fourth of July to remember his nation’s struggle for liberty and what that means on the soil of a country he helped liberate.

Others at Camp Babylon, a few hours south of Baghdad, considered the day like any other — another one away from home.

“The big thing is, you’re not at home,” said Army Sgt. Josh Herbig of St. Louis, with the 307th U.S. Army Civil Affairs Psychological Operations Command. “It’s a big day, but we’re not with our friends and family.”

At home, he would have feasted on an outdoor roast and watched fireworks.

“If I was home, I’d be having the customary cookout, enjoying my family,” Fizer said.

Others say they would have been lying in the sun, heating up the barbecue and probably having a beer.

“It’s not the same,” said Marine Sgt. Johnny A. Perez of Brooklyn, N.Y., with the 6th Communication Battalion. “At home, you’ve got the fireworks, the Statue of Liberty. You can’t celebrate it like at home.”

There was no family or fireworks, and only nonalcoholic beer, but servicemembers had a few activities to show their spirit.

It was a day out of uniform, a day to sleep in and a day to have fun, for most.

Fizer joined the volleyball tournament even though he doesn’t particularly like the sport.

“Whatever they put here for us to do, I would have participated,” he said.

Perez won the 5-kilometer race at 16 minutes, 18 seconds, his best time at Camp Babylon, but not close to his 14-minute, 35-second personal best.

A few hundred runners participated, running a course near the historic city of Babylon.

The biggest treat for many was their first night of prepared food, trucked up by contractors, of lobster tail, shrimp salad, steak and even ice cream — the first for the dusty camp. The chow line snaked around for hours.

The food and fun made a nice diversion, but most servicemembers said it was more or less business as usual in Iraq.

“You can’t celebrate it like home,” Perez said. “You have to have fun, but at the same time be alert.”

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