Freedom is not free — more than just a casual expression

Life and Leadership in Rappahannock County (and Beyond)

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By Jane Whitfield

With Veterans Day approaching, many of us take a few minutes to reflect on the service and dedication of the men and women in our military. We talk about independence and democracy, and all too often we hear the phrase “freedom is not free.”

It is hard to argue with this statement, so synonymous with the many brave men and women who have lost their lives in service to our country. This is a truth my husband and I know all too well. Five years ago, our lives were changed forever with one simple knock at daylight. Our son, Sgt. Matthew T. Abbate, was killed in combat in Afghanistan on Dec. 2, 2010. This tragic event had more far-reaching impact than one could imagine and the phrase “freedom is not free” rings loudly in our ears.

However, the tragedy and horror of war and its lost souls overshadow the meaning in a broader context. “Freedom is not free” speaks to the challenges we face and sacrifices we make together to survive in a community where we rely on one another for our future and our humanity. The freedom we sacrifice for is the blanket that swaddles us together from every walk of life and will be the lifeline for generations to come. Without a doubt, it is the soldier’s sacrifice. But it is also the woman’s and the teacher’s and our neighbor’s …

Rappahannock county resident Judge William H. Webster has a lot to say on this issue. Having served terms as both director of the CIA and the FBI, as well as serving in World War II and Korea, he has dedicated his professional life to our national security and democracy. When considering the phrase “freedom is not free,” he focuses on our collective responsibility rather than individual cost, and uses the Constitution as his guiding force.

Through his tireless dedication to the wisdom of our founding fathers, Webster has led the struggle to balance national security with personal freedom. When sworn into his role at the FBI, he declared, “Together we will do the work that the American people expect of us in a way that the Constitution demands of us.”

“I’m focused,” he says, “not on the imposition as much as the responsibility to protect and defend the rights that our country is all about. And sometimes people feel that freedoms are too free and they want to cut back on them, and that’s a matter for debate, but we have to do it within the context of our Constitution and responsibilities there.”

So, that being said, how many people take our freedoms for granted? I know I certainly have been guilty of this, sometimes more, sometimes less. We all do — life is busy. Now is the time to change! Let’s embrace “freedom is not free” as a call to action and start living it out in our daily lives. Let’s give this phrase our own personal meaning and wake up each day grateful that we have the support and protection of our community, local and national, to live our lives however we find most meaningful.

Jane Whitfield is president and CEO of Whitfield Consulting Group, a leadership consulting firm serving the corporate, philanthropic and nonprofit community. She was formerly president and CEO of the PenFed Foundation, a national nonprofit serving veteran and military families. She lives with her husband Sal Abbate and their dog Wesley in Amissville.

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