The beauty and peacefulness of our Scripps Ranch neighborhood rarely goes unnoticed even to those of us who live here. We have tree-lined streets, colorful foliage, vistas of the mountains to the east, and the ocean to the west.

Never a day goes by where you can drive without seeing moms and dads pushing babies in a stroller, men and women jogging, or kids playing. All are enjoying the blue skies, sweet-smelling air, incredible scenery, and the comfort and safety in believing a bombshell won't hit our houses in the near future.

I am one of those who appreciate what we have here on a daily basis. I never see fresh cut grass anymore without stopping to smell the earthy scent. I love walking barefoot on the soft carpet in my home. Even going to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a snack is a treat.

After being on a Navy ship for two long deployments to the Arabian Gulf between 1995 and 1998, I promised myself I would never again take the little things for granted. Even if I wanted to, I have maintained close relationships with other military friends who still go in harms way every day. And every night, I hope and pray for their safe return--and for all those who serve with them.

For those in our military, it is the little things they miss the most. It's not just being with your children, it's hearing your child laugh with all the innocence they possess. Or hearing them say, "I love you" before they drift off to sleep. My husband and I are fortunate to be able to tuck in our kids at night, even though there is the chance that one or both of us could be recalled to active duty while serving in the Naval Reserve.

A close friend, Major Chris Scharf, United States Marine Corps, inspired me to write this article to remind everyone of the sacrifices made on our behalf. The sacrifices that allow us to walk freely in our parks, worship the religion of our choice, or go for a run around Miramar Lake, knowing we are protected by others who put their lives on the line for us.

Chris and I used to fly UH-1N "Huey" helicopters together at Camp Pendleton. Although I was a Navy pilot and he a Marine pilot, we were both senior instructors teaching combat search and rescue. Several years after we parted ways, we were fortunate enough to work together again. We left the adrenaline rush of our previous lives behind and joined ranks with others who find safety and security behind a desk.

But a call for something more meaningful continued to beckon, and we both joined our respective reserve units. As a new mother, I opted for a non-flying unit. Chris went back to flying, and within two months of joining the USMC Reserve, he received orders to Iraq.

Chris didn't ask to get recalled to active duty. His wife didn't want him to leave for what could be up to a year. An avid surfer, there were days Chris would show up at work after already catching a few waves. I received an email from Chris recently that really made me stop and think. I was anticipating a "happy to be serving but wish I was at home" sentiment. What I received was much more.

Yes, he misses his wife, home, and surfing. But he was able to give me a taste of something you never see in the news: hope. Even though fresh water, new schools, and new hospitals don't make the front page, our men and women in uniform are making a positive difference in the lives of Iraqis in a part of the world that has never known freedom as we know it.

Chris wrote: "I'm located at a place about 45 minutes from the capital and about 8-10 miles from the place that you've been hearing a lot in the news about. When you find it on the map, you'll probably understand the support that we've been providing. Not a day goes by that I'm not impressed/inspired/in awe of something or someone out here, whether it's someone's actions or just the shear beauty/impact of a moment. There's a stoic beauty about the desert, and I pray that the region will someday be able to appreciate it more in the comfort of stability."

Not a day goes by that most veterans who served in the military wonder if they did enough, if they could do more, and if they owe their country more. Many people incredulously ask, "Why?" There are those who may never understand what it means to serve, but they will always understand what it means to live the good life--free of impending doom.

To those people, I ask just one thing. This 4th of July--our nation's Independence Day--take a minute to appreciate those who make the sacrifices that allow you to live the good life. Fly your American flags proudly, say "thank you" to a veteran, stand for the national anthem, and honor our men and women in uniform--especially those who cannot be here with us to celebrate.

Karen Fine, Lieutenant Commander, USNR

"FREEDOM IS NOT FREE"--Korean War Monument in Washington, D.C.