The adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, was a defining moment in world history. It launched America on her journey to becoming the greatest nation on the face of the planet, and inspired other countries to chart a path toward democracy. Over 240 years later, the principles of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness continue to endure today.

Each year, as we gather with our family and friends to hold barbecues, watch fireworks, and celebrate Independence Day, it’s important we pause and remember those who have made the American experiment possible—from our Founding Fathers and Mothers, to the millions of men and women who have served our nation in uniform, and the folks who have volunteered to help improve their local communities. Just like the many who came before us, we each play a role in determining the future of this great country.

While we will always be working to form a more perfect union, it’s because of the sacrifice of countless men and women that we are able to live in the freest, most powerful nation on Earth. Only in America could a farm kid from southwest Iowa rise to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard and go on to serve as the first female elected to federal office from the state of Iowa.

We are truly blessed to call the United States home. I’m reminded of the freedom our nation offers every day—whether I’m riding my motorcycle across Iowa, going to church each Sunday with Mom, or spending the afternoon with family and friends at my brother’s “chicken coop.” And the opportunity this country offers is evident when I’m out on my 99 County Tour hearing directly from Iowans about their family farm, small business, nonprofit, and so much more. It’s the American people, in particular my fellow Iowans, who keep me centered and hopeful for our tomorrow.

As President Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” And that’s why we must be ever vigilant in protecting it. Freedom was bought with a price, and we can never forget that. So often we take our liberties for granted, but it is our obligation to remind future generations of the tremendous sacrifice it took to become the United States of America.

Every single day, but especially on Independence Day, I am proud to be an American; and, I will continue to fight for our troops, to protect and defend our freedoms, and always show my respect and admiration for our great American Flag.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)

Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.