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“The home of the free, because of the brave…” Freedom Citation Essay Winner

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- On the somber Friday morning of Sept. 29 at 10:35 a.m., "DoD confirmed the death of Army Private First Class Jaysine Petree. Her HUMVEE was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device while traveling between Ghanzi and Bagram Air Field." She is my second cousin. Upon hearing the news from my mom late Thursday night, I did not know how to react and was at a loss for words.

As I contemplated on my answer to what freedom means to me, Private Petree came to mind. She is a testimony that freedom is priceless; it is one that money cannot buy, a quality that greatly demands sacrifice. She defined that freedom is a privilege and not a right; a trait that nations around the world strive to achieve. Finally, she is a heroic example that freedom is an utmost desire that humanity constantly yearns for and fights for to this day. My cousin is my definition of freedom: selfless, dedicated, and compassionate.

Freedom is priceless; it is an asset that cannot be bought, an asset that ultimately benefits yet, requires great sacrifices. Jen-Jen, as we called her, made up her mind to join the Army. While I, on the other hand, was adamant in pursuing the Air Force. Our aspirations encompassed seeing and exploring the world, obtaining a high-quality education, and taking advantage of the privilege to serve and give back to our community and our great country. Thus, we found the military as an outlet for us to make our dreams come true. It all seemed too good to be true but we knew that it also came with a high price -- our full commitment to serve and defend our country with our lives and that sacrifices must be made to accomplish the mission.

Despite all odds, we willingly took the Oath of Enlistment and came into our respective services. Who would have known that would be the last time I see her. The hardest part was saying goodbye to all whom we love and to the lives we once lived. We left paradise, our beautiful hometown, Guam. We traded white sandy beaches for sand dunes in the Middle East; we traded sumptuous island food for MREs; we traded being with our families for our comrades in ACUs and ABUs. Then again, despite all odds, we managed to stay true to our vows and focus on the greater good of our nation's safety. To be selfless and to sacrifice for the greater good was driven by freedom.

Freedom is a privilege and not a right; it is truly an attribute that nations around the world strive to achieve. Jen-Jen and I are very fortunate to have grandparents who decided to leave the oppression and martial law of the Philippines. They separated my family from a violent environment, migrated to Guam and obtained a U.S. citizenship because they wanted to take part in living the American dream and provide better lives to their children and grandchildren. They exposed us to better opportunities and challenged us to pursue our dreams.

Jen-Jen and I are forever thankful for their unselfish actions and to the gracious community that honed us to be better individuals. To be dedicated and compassionate like Jen-Jen and my grandparents were direct results of freedom.

I willingly chose to fight for freedom, for the people I love, and for the country that has provided such great opportunities to me and my family. It is because of my grandparents who unselfishly went through the struggles that allowed for the fortunate lives we live today. It is because of my husband in Security Forces, my brother in the infantry, as well as other service members who are in the front lines of defense at this very moment, fighting to preserve our rights and freedom.

It is because of Private Petree and the countless service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice that I strive to carry on their mission of serving our country and continuing to be an ambassador of freedom. They have motivated me to take the fight to the enemy and muster the courage to face harm for the benefit of our nation and the world. I am proud to wear my uniform everyday and represent the greatest Air Power the world has ever seen.

I am proud to be a Defender; fighting alongside my family regardless of the sacrifices we are constantly demanded. Most importantly, I am proud to be an Airman, a catalyst of change. This is dedicated to you Army PFC Jaysine Petree. I pray that you may rest in peace and always watch over us. At 19, you have served your country well. You did not die in vain. Although I am not there to bid you farewell, I love you. I am with you in spirit, and I promise to continue your mission.