Support our mission
It's safety first as Sgt. Jonathan Hatcher, 26, of Cheraw, S.C. dons ballistic glasses to tend to the grill at a Fourth of July celebration at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda, Iraq. Troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment took part.

It's safety first as Sgt. Jonathan Hatcher, 26, of Cheraw, S.C. dons ballistic glasses to tend to the grill at a Fourth of July celebration at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda, Iraq. Troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment took part. (Anita Powell / S&S)

It's safety first as Sgt. Jonathan Hatcher, 26, of Cheraw, S.C. dons ballistic glasses to tend to the grill at a Fourth of July celebration at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda, Iraq. Troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment took part.

It's safety first as Sgt. Jonathan Hatcher, 26, of Cheraw, S.C. dons ballistic glasses to tend to the grill at a Fourth of July celebration at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda, Iraq. Troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment took part. (Anita Powell / S&S)

First Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment soldiers at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda tuck into their Fourth of July meal.

First Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment soldiers at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda tuck into their Fourth of July meal. (Anita Powell / S&S)

Pfc. Chase Collins, 20, of Dallas, digs into his ice cream at a Fourth of July celebration for 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment soldiers in Iraq.

Pfc. Chase Collins, 20, of Dallas, digs into his ice cream at a Fourth of July celebration for 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment soldiers in Iraq. (Anita Powell / S&S)

A Fourth of July meal for the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment in Iraq took more than six hours to prepare.

A Fourth of July meal for the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment in Iraq took more than six hours to prepare. (Anita Powell / S&S)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE PALIWODA, Iraq — The weather was hot, the fake beer was cold, the music was loud and the grill was sizzling Tuesday at 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment’s Independence Day celebration at this tiny base northeast of Baghdad.

With temperatures topping 100 degrees by noon, soldiers from the Fort Carson, Colo.-based 4th Infantry Division battalion gathered under camouflage netting to enjoy an all-American feast, the product of more than six hours of preparation by the battalion’s cooking staff.

Over fake beers and real Baskin-Robbins ice cream, soldiers gathered and joked grimly about the likelihood of “fireworks” — meaning insurgent mortar attacks, which are frequent occurrences at the tiny base outside Balad.

“We won’t be shooting any fireworks,” joked Maj. Chuck Adkins, 50, of Fayetteville, Ark. “Some might come to us, though.”

Adkins, leader of a military transition team that works with the battalion’s sister Iraqi Army battalion, brought something else to the celebration: military leaders from the Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division.

“It’s a good celebration out here,” battalion commander Col. Shojaa Jawad, 50, said in Arabic. “I hope every year we can do it together.”

Shojaa’s wishes aside, the possibility of spending multiple Independence Days in Iraq garnered a universal reaction from soldiers.

“It makes me miserable to think that I’m spending the Fourth of July over here, that I’m missing another anniversary, another birthday,” said Capt. Jesse Abreu, 33, of Miami.

Pfc. Jeremy Trahan, 22, of Lake Charles, La., pined for different things.

“I could be back at home, on the beach, getting some sun, drinking a [expletive] beer and watching girls in bikinis go by,” said Trahan, a cook who had been working since 5:30 a.m.

Pfc. Chase Collins, 20, of Dallas, drank his nonalcoholic beer and pined for his native Texan brew: Shiner Bock. (Collins was a statistical anomaly; the majority of soldiers polled wished for Corona, a Mexican import.)

Still, “We’ve got it better than some people,” Collins said while draining a can of O’Doul’s. “Some people are out on patrol right now.

“The food was the jump-off,” he added, conveying his satisfaction with the meal.

Pvt. Paul Sylvester, 18, of Boston, was a little more direct in his opinion of the food. Sylvester, who is vegetarian, spent much of the previous evening and morning preparing the meat-heavy meal.

“I had to scrub the grills all night,” he said, picking at his plate of mashed potatoes, green beans and sliced tomatoes. “And then I had to thaw all this meat. It’s hard. It sucks being over here.”

Capt. RJ Johnson, 27, of Brooklyn, Mich., was more easily sated after two scoops of cookies-and-cream ice cream.

“It’s amazing how the little things in life make me so happy,” he said, patting his stomach.

A celebration of a different sort took place Tuesday in Bagram, Afghanistan.

There, 26 soldiers from 21 countries took an oath to become American citizens during a ceremony at Bagram Air Base.

“It is so fitting that today on the Fourth of July, when we celebrate our nation’s birthday, that we would take the time ... and have 26 fellow soldiers join us as fellow American soldiers,” said Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, the U.S. operational commander in Afghanistan, who attended the ceremony.

Under a fast-track law enacted in 2004, soldiers on active duty in the U.S. military are automatically eligible for citizenship. Normally, obtaining citizenship is a lengthy process that can run three to five years.

“I feel great. I will be an American citizen. Since I was 10 years old, I had a dream that one day in America, I would be a citizen,” he said.

At the barbecue in Iraq, Capt. Brad Rudy, 26, said he was pleased to be able to celebrate the holiday with friends and colleagues.

“I appreciate (the holiday) more because I feel like I’ve accomplished something, like my men have accomplished something,” he said. “I wouldn’t like to be here in a role where I wasn’t actually engaging bad guys.”

However, like all soldiers interviewed, he said, “I’d rather be home with my wife and child at a barbecue.”

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Jeff Martindale agreed.

“It’s my favorite holiday, no matter where I am,” he said. “But we’d all rather be home with our families.”

The Associated Press in Afghanistan contributed to this report.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up