Every year, excitement builds as Americans look forward to celebrating our nation’s independence with fireworks, barbecue and family time. Unfortunately, this Fourth of July, things will look different all across the country. Due to the pandemic, celebrations will be much more subdued and family gatherings at a minimum.
Every year, Americans deployed overseas experience this reality. They’re separated from their families and the excitement that builds around the Fourth of July. Many develop unique traditions overseas to cherish the season, while some find ways to stay connected and honor their home country all year long. Three overseas American Red Cross volunteers and military spouses share how they celebrate and stay connected to America throughout the year.
NAVIGATING A NEW WORLD
Susan Diaz, Laura Sargeant and Isabel Audenaert are all military spouses living overseas for the first time. Their husbands all serve at the U.S. Army Garrison in Vicenza, Italy. All three are new to military life and deployment and find that creating a sense of home and community is important. Audenaert shares, “We all live in a different country far from home where we don’t speak the language, but we can always count on each other because we’re in the same situation. Spouses help other spouses no matter how hard your own situation is. Everyone comes together just to be there for each other, which is important because with your husband gone you feel lonely, especially in another country with no family.”
Diaz echoes her fellow volunteer, “From living in a foreign country, being away from family, or a servicemember leaving suddenly on deployment, we all go through the same types of emotions as we try to navigate sudden and unexpected changes. I am so thankful to have friends here that are willing to live life alongside me and that we can be there for each other on the good days and bad.”
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
All three women are learning how to incorporate traditions of home, while still putting roots down in their new place of residence. The Fourth of July proves to be a holiday that showcases their ability to do just that. Audenaert explained, “In the U.S., we do a nice barbecue with our friends, everybody brings some Fourth of July-themed food and we decorate the house red, white and blue. It is my husband’s favorite holiday. I’m so happy that the base hosts a wonderful July 4th celebration and invites the host nation guests to attend.” Sargeant shares, “What I miss most about celebrating back home is being with our family and friends. This year will be our first year, and we plan on traveling within Italy. We will be sure to incorporate some traditions of grilling out while on vacation or even grabbing a few sparklers to keep the tradition alive.”
FOR LOVE OF COUNTRY AND FAMILY
For these three women, one integral way of staying connected to their home country and family is to serve with the American Red Cross. Recently, when their husbands were rapidly deployed, all three sprung into action. There was a need for large quantities of comfort kits to be distributed to the troops. These kits contained things such as: personal hygiene items, snacks, drinks, etc. Diaz, Sargeant and Audenaert along with other Red Cross volunteers witnessed an outpouring of support for the troops through donations to build these kits. There was no shortage of work to be done, Audenaert shares, “During that time, we had a lot to do. We unpacked and sorted the donations, then repacked them in new boxes, wrapping them up to ship all around the world to soldiers in need.” According to Diaz, these donations are important to our troops, “It was so incredible seeing the number of boxes we were picking up to send to our soldiers. I know my husband, for one, always looked forward to opening up a box from the Red Cross.”
PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
All three women are proud to call themselves volunteers and to have an important service that they’re responsible for. While overseas they continue impacting our country in a positive way. They choose to serve those who safeguard us. Diaz comments that she, “looks forward to volunteering in more ways” with the Red Cross in the future.
Overseas volunteers understand how integral their volunteering is. Even if they are far away from the creature comforts of home, they support our freedoms. For these selfless acts, we should all be so thankful this Fourth of July.