After spending last Fourth of July in Iraq, 23-year-old Army Sgt. Lucas Shipler wanted to return home to Juneau to see family and celebrate his favorite childhood holiday with a new perspective.
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"It used to be toffee at the parade and pretty lights in the sky at night, but now it's a whole different meaning of respect and understanding of what it's actually celebrating," he said.
Shipler, born and raised in Juneau through his middle school years, arrived in Alaska via Baumholder, Germany, where he is stationed with the U.S. Army 2/6 Infantry. He said he specifically chose to return for Independence Day after being abroad for so long.
"It was the first chance I had to come home for the Fourth of July holiday, so I took advantage of it and came to Juneau," he said. "Fourth of July in Juneau has always been something special. It's always been my favorite holiday up here."
Shipler has not returned to Juneau since moving with his parents to Olympia, Wash., after middle school.
Seeing family for the first time after being stationed overseas in a conflict zone helps bring perspective to what you're fighting for, Shipler said. He said he was excited to spend time with the many Juneau family members he hasn't seen for years.
"Out of all the other holidays, it's always been a little more togetherness with the family," Shipler said.
Susan George said having her nephew home this year makes Independence Day particularly special and meaningful.
"It makes it more special that he's willing to be overseas," she said. "He is fighting for freedom and that is what Fourth of July is all about it. So that is a lot more special, especially to see the physical scars on his body."
Shipler is tightlipped about his experiences patrolling the streets of Baghdad, but acknowledged he has a level of hearing loss in one ear due to the improvised explosive devices that are an everyday threat in the Iraq war.
"One too many IEDs messed my right ear up," he said.
What he relays to his family about Army life in Iraq is also somewhat limited, Shipler said.
"I don't tell them much," he said. "I tell them it's hard. It is hard work."
George said she has seen a tremendous transformation in Shipler since she last saw him.
"He's definitely a young man," she said. "And he definitely has seen some things that I wish I never see."
Shipler has re-enlisted in the Army and will be heading back to Iraq in November for another extended tour of duty. He said he is a little apprehensive about returning to the war zone but no more than most people.
"You're worried," he said. "You don't want to go, but you do go because it's the job."
For now, Shipler said he plans to participate in the Independence Day celebrations with his family. After watching the parade, Shipler said he plans to gather at his uncle's property with family for barbecue, bonfires, fireworks and riding All-terrain vehicles.
Shipler said he hopes people will take a moment out of their holiday celebrations to remember America's men and women serving in the armed forces in Iraq.
"Keep praying for everybody over there," he said. "Sometimes they need it."
Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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