This Veterans Day will be different. Many assemblies and ceremonies have become yet another casualty of 2020. I did get offered to speak at Lake West Christian Academy but I chose not to do it because of other commitments. I enjoy the events that schools put on and the opportunities they give to make an impact on today's youths. I wanted to write a little essay to take the place of the many veteran assemblies that will be missed this year, if you feel so inclined please share my message with your children, students, and friends.
Bad days will come. That's an unavoidable truth. On April 29, 2004, I had the worse day of my life. We were on a mission looking for roadside bombs. It was a day like many we had spent in Iraq. I started the day with my usual silent prayer for the guys I served with and my family back home, and then I sang "The Dance" by Garth Brooks. The song had taken a special meaning for me. "Lives were better left to chance, I could have missed the pain but I'd have missed the dance" was my way of saying if only to myself that if I died today, I had lived a good life. On that day, a car drove into a group of 12 soldiers from another unit that was working as our security force and it exploded... the military term was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. The moments after are blurred and lost to me, my mind's natural defense system blocks the images and happenings from me.
When the last casualty was evacuated, the toll was 8 dead and 4 wounded. I never met the 12 from that day, and frankly, I am glad that is true. If I lost 8 of my guys, I know that I wouldn't be the same man I am today. I probably would keep this story inside, where it could punish me forever like far too many of my brothers and sisters do. The next moment is the most powerful part of this story. Not the moment that we jumped from our vehicles and waded through a canal to get to them, not the moment that I heard their medic (my job) was one of the dead, not the moment my commander told me to get back in the vehicle while other brave soldiers from my unit hunted for the scattered remains of the fallen.
The moment that I so hated that day, but now I have grown to love was the moment that we got back in the vehicles and proceeded down the road to look for roadside bombs. I remember thinking how in the hell am I supposed to go now. Thoughts of my own death played out in my brain. I was so angry at our leaders for not turning around and calling it a day. But now home safe in the country I love and 16 years older, I am so glad we continued. If we had stopped, it would have been surrender. We would have said the road is too tough to continue. We can't... they win. But we drove on and cleared the route into a remote village; potentially saving more lives than we lost that day.
Life can really, really suck sometimes. It takes away people we love. It breaks our hearts. It challenges us over and over. You have many ups and downs in life but the one thing that I beg of you to do is to always keep moving forward even during the worst days. Don't give in to the voice that says turn around, run away, or even worse... just quit. That voice is loud in the moment but quiets with time. That day will forever be a part of me and without it, my life might not be on the path it is. I have a great family, a career that others envy, beloved friends, and an incredibly hopeful future. In summary, when you can't go on... go on. You must not stop or the darkness wins. Continue on the road, it leads to better days because the ups of life will far outnumber the downs if you never stop.