I said in my introduction that writing a blog would be a challenge for me and it certainly has been. I often struggle because I want to make sure my posts provide readers with unique insights. In short, I want my writing to provide some value to others. I’d rather have infrequent but meaningful posts than frequent posts that just chronicle my daily activities. However, the past few weeks (an emotional roller coaster) have inspired me and this post.
A few weeks ago I spent the weekend in Amarillo, Texas. Now I am not sure what Amarillo is known for, but the Big Texan Restaurant has been featured on the Food Network for its 72oz steak! The reason I traveled to Amarillo was to attend several events for our Gold Star Families. (FYI – Gold Star Families are those who have lost loved ones during War.) As usual, Murphy reared his ugly head and our connection from Dallas to Amarillo was cancelled due to extreme weather conditions causing us to miss the opening BBQ with the families of our fallen comrades. I spent the night at DFW and headed out first thing in the morning to Amarillo. On Saturday we attended a luncheon with the families and then a dinner banquet that night. The luncheon was great and it was inspiring to see how many volunteers were working the venue and how many businesses provided the food and supplies needed to make this event a success. The banquet was also a terrific event. Everyone looked fantastic is their dress clothes, the food was great and over 1,200 people attended the event including many Veteran’s organizations and other military supporters.
I can’t explain how much it meant to me to spend time with these families during these events. Some of the happiest days of my life were spent with my platoons in combat. The bond we forged during those months isolated on combat outposts will last a lifetime. However, some of the saddest days of my life occurred during these times as well. Between having one of my best friends critically wounded, losing some other friends, and losing one of my favorite soldiers who I served with before taking over my buddy’s platoon after he was wounded, it is clear that some of my darkest days were spent during this time as well.
In a way, the weekend in Amarillo was uncomfortable, yet comforting at the same time. It was uncomfortable because there was nothing I could do to help ease their pain. Their family members gave their lives fighting for this country and nothing I could do or say would bring them back. However, being able to spend time with some of the families was very comforting. Hearing stories of these great men and women made me proud to wear this uniform. I believe those who are most successful as Soldiers are those who truly believe in and live our values. After spending some time with our Gold Star Families it was easy to see that their loved ones lived our values.
“Miss Jackie” was one of the Gold Star Mothers who made a lasting impression on me. We initially spoke at the end of the BBQ luncheon. She had a wonderful smile and the women she was with all had this aura about them. Initially, I couldn’t pinpoint the source of their aura. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized the source was the immense pride they felt for those they lost. Although they had suffered immense grief, they all had a deep sense of pride in the service and sacrifice of those they had lost.
Meeting Miss Jackie was a blessing. During our initial conversation we spoke about her son and my experiences in Afghanistan. As it turned out, one of the mother’s in her prayer group was the mother of one of my favorite soldier’s from my first platoon who had been killed in action. Later that night I was able to speak to her on the phone. Once again it was an uncomfortable yet comfortable scenario. I knew there was nothing I could do or say to ease her pain, but I wanted her to know what her son meant to me. I had the opportunity to speak at his memorial in Afghanistan and meant every word I said. I said he was one of my favorites and I meant it.
Although as leaders we refuse to show “favoritism” and with good reason, it is impossible not to have favorites. He was the type of kid who showed up everyday ready to do his job. He pushed himself to be the best he could be physically as well as with the technical skills of his job. He was also a quick witted and humorous; always ready to spew some silly movie line to lighten the mood for others. It’s easy to see that he was special and had a bright future ahead of him; even if he was a Cowboys fan!
My time spent with Miss Jackie and some of the other Gold Star Families was time well spent. In a sense they have become my extended family. I will remember the sacrifices of their loved ones for the rest of my life. They answered a call and in doing so gave their lives. Neither the families nor their loved ones have asked for anything in return. Our Gold Star Families remain a tight community drawing strength from each other and from the memory of those they lost.
The weekend in Amarillo was very tough but I am happy to have been a guest, honored for the time I spent with our Gold Star Families, and thankful to have organizations such as America Supports You Texas and people like Jack Barnes who go to such great lengths to ensure our fallen and their families are never forgotten.
Never Forget 9/11 and Never ever forget those who answered this nation’s call and never came back!
On A Side Note:
I came across this article the other day and it was very disheartening to read. Basically, the family members of a fallen Marine were trying to escort the body home from Dover AFB to their hometown so they could hold his funeral. As usual, flights were oversold so the airline was offering a $500 stipend for traveler’s with flexible travel plans. Even after it was identified that this family was trying to escort the body of their son home, only three travelers volunteered to give up of their seats and it took almost two hours for three more volunteers to come forward. THIS WAS JUST BEFORE MEMORIAL DAY!
Although I have provided many counter-arguments when others have stated that America is disconnected from its Military and disconnected from the war efforts, I fear that I may be fighting a losing battle. With an All-Volunteer Force, I guess many Americans have the option of remaining disconnected from our efforts. However, it should never come to these extremes.
Last year on my way to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico I volunteered to give up my seats because the flight to Houston was oversold. The result? They put me on a direct flight to Puerto Vallarta, in first class, and still gave me a voucher for a future flight. I didn’t ask for any of this, that was just what was offered AFTER I volunteered. Sometimes a little Selfless Service goes a long way.