There is not a day that goes by that I do not have a few moments of deep sadness. It is a powerful sense of sorrow and guilt about how fortunate I have been, even though far better men and women lost their lives on the battlefields where I served. Every single day, I look at my beautiful wife, and two amazing boys; I think about the fact that I have a job I love and generally good life, and it all strikes me as so much more than I truly deserve. There are times that I believe that if I could trade places with one of my fallen comrades, that he or she may live, I would do so in a second. Who am I to be so fortunate, when so many better than myself have made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving their families to deal with the grief that goes with it?
My Command Sergeant Major in Afghanistan, CSM Henry Jetty, warned us that we would have these feelings when we returned home. He also told us that we would never stop feeling this way. He said that it was our duty to remember forever those we lost, and it was our duty to go on living and to make the absolute most of our lives, as a tribute to those who would never get the chance.
In the small town where I live, the families of school-aged children are split into red families and blue families, and each spring the reds and blues face off in a series of sporting events known as color day. My family is a blue family. And each year, we show up, decked out in blue, me with my face painted blue, and ready to cheer heartily not just for our son, but for all the blues. I work for a Fortune 50 Company, and I take a great deal of pride both in my company and what I do. This year, after color day, a friend of our family told us that her husband Adam had commented on how passionate I tend to be about things. He mentioned the fact that I had painted my face (including my beard) blue, and that I clearly loved my job, and they discussed what an unusual trait that is. It is rare, and it’s something I see as a duty. I strive to approach everything I do with unbridled passion and motivation. I try to give all of myself to the commitments I make. Not because I have some incredible zeal for life (I don’t), but because every single day, I remember that I have the privilege of living that day. I am doubly fortunate because I don’t just get to live that day, I get to live it with an amazing family that is full of love an joy. So much more than I deserve. Never will I have the right to feel sullen or downtrodden about any aspect of my life, because it is the highest privilege just to have a life to live.
My time in the military left me with daily headaches, a body that is in constant pain, limited mobility, memory issues that cause a lot of hardship, and nightly nightmares and daily intrusive thoughts. These are all forms of pain, and if I learned anything in the military, it is that pain is a good thing, because it means you’re not dead yet. Each day my eyes open, I am given another chance to make the most of what I have been given. So each day I wake up, I work through the pain, I use tools to supplement my memory, and I find distractions from my thoughts. I put on the smiles when they are needed, and I love my family with the intensity of a man who expects not to see another day. Passion and gratitude are my memorial to those whose eyes never opened again.
I will never forget the names forever etched in my memory. 1st Sgt Tobias Meister, SFC Merideth Howard, Sgt Robert Paul, FCC(SEAL) Jacques Fontan, ITCS(SEAL) Daniel Healy, MA2(SEAL) Michael Monsoor, QM2(SW) Justin Amaya, Major Lance Waldorf… Some were close friends, some were folks with whom I only served briefly. I feel duty-bound to remember each one, and yet as time goes on, despite my efforts, their faces fade, their voices are lost, and their memory becomes more of a recollection of events. To add to the pain of knowing that their faces will fade entirely if I do not look at their pictures is the fact that the faces of suicide bombers blown to pieces, and dead Taliban fighters, never seem to fade. I can see the faces of my fallen enemy with perfect clarity, but the face of those with whom I shared a bond, slowly escapes me. This is my torture. The perpetual price I must pay for the privileges I enjoy.
What's more, is the fact that there are no words I can use, no great communication I can craft, that can ever convey the massive weight of sadness that hangs heavy on my heart. So I do as I have always done. I do my duty. I stand proud, I make the most of my life, and I wear the smiles. My burdens are mine alone to bear, but I will not allow them to hold me back, hurt my family, or make me anything less than eternally grateful for those who gave all.
I will remember.