The Fourth of July is the time to celebrate the birth of our nation. It is also a time to recognize that we would not be able to have our cookouts and watch fireworks if our country’s military had not sacrificed to protect our Constitution and its forerunner, the Declaration of Independence.

This week I was fortunate to view our U.S. Army medical research laboratories in Kenya, Africa. Most Americans don’t know that our government actually has medical research laboratories outside the United States.

In our complex world, our soldiers must be ready to go anywhere that we need them to be. Recently, we saw a successful military operation in capturing of Usama Bin Laden in the Pakistan -- not exactly a garden spot for the health and well being of our soldiers.

Military medicine must be prepared to not only treat our soldiers wounded in combat but also to protect service members from infectious disease found throughout the world. The U.S. military first began this fight with Major Walter Reed determining the cause of Yellow Fever in Cuba because our troops were getting sick and dying. Walter Reed and his team were responsible for determining how the troops were developing this disease and protecting them from dying. This effort was the origins of military medical research.

Today, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) continues this fine tradition of medical research for the solider, developing vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics that protect the solider from disease found worldwide. These vaccines also benefit global public health. For example, the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit, Kenya is on the leading edge of the effort to develop vaccines and treatments for Malaria, HIV, Viral Hemorrghic fevers and other diseases of military and public health importance.

In addition, the Kenyan unit works with local governments in Africa to monitor for diseases such as influenza that are important to every American. Many of the drugs and vaccines in use today and under development came from militaries medical research initiatives along with collaborating partners (drug companies, universities, academic research centers and non profits). The medical unit in Kenya continues the effort to develop malaria and HIV vaccines that not only will have great importance to our troops but also to the rest of the world.

I had the opportunity to visit with Kenyans whose lives have been saved and transformed through programs initiated and supported through the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) and their partners. The Kenyans I spoke with know that this is from the U.S. Army and the financial support of the American people. Everyone expressed their gratitude and wanted us to convey their gratitude to the American public.

This Fourth of July weekend as you are enjoying your holiday remember that U.S. military medical research has been an integral part of insuring your safety and freedom for over 100 years. You can thank our U.S. Military for helping eradicate malaria and yellow fever and helping to develop many of the vaccines that protect us today.

Ellen Ratner is Washington bureau chief for Talk Radio News Service and a Fox News contributor.