It’s Veterans Day, and if you read my recap of the Marine Corps Marathon, you know what I think of our troops, both past and present. They’re my heroes — the ones who are willing to die so strangers can live comfortably in peace. It doesn’t get much more heroic than that.
I feel pretty guilty talking about anything other than Veteran’s Day today, but I do have a couple of things I need to go over. Real quick, just in case you’ve never been here before, click here to see why I’m trying to run 61 marathons this year to benefit Train 4 Autism. So far, 53 down, eight to go.
The one quick bit of housekeeping I need to do: The 61st marathon of this will be the Operation Jack Marathon on December 26. If you can’t make it to the race, check out our satellite run option. It’s one last chance to participate with Operation Jack and help spread the word about Train 4 Autism! Plus, you get a medal out of the deal!
Yesterday I announced this and got quite a bit of feedback. I’m aiming for all 50 states, and it looks like I’m also going to have Afghanistan or Kuwait covered! I received the following reply on Twitter from John Atilano, which blew me away.
@operationjack count me in! I’ll either be in Kuwait or Afghanistan. I deploy Christmas Eve but I’ll make it happen for Jack!!
Wow, what do you even say to that? Well first, I said thank you and told him how exciting that was to me. I really can’t even put it into words. It’s just awesome and I’ll leave it at that. But I told him I wanted to feature him a bit in my blog today since it’s Veteran’s Day. He’s cool with that, so I sent him a few questions.
1. I saw on your site that you’re in the Army. What is your role?
1. I’m a Major in the United States Army. I’m a Combat Engineer Officer. For the past few years I’ve been doing mostly Strategic Planning jobs. First at the Pentagon and currently with the US Army Corps of Engineers. In between those two assignments, I did a combat tour in Iraq as a Team Commander for a Military Transition Team where myself and my 10 team members lived, trained and fought with an Iraqi Armor Battalion in Baghdad.
2. I also saw that you’ve been to Kuwait and Iraq. Were those during war times?
2. Several deployments. Kuwait in ’97; Bosnia in ’99; Korea ’00-’02; Iraq ’07-’08. Upcoming deployment to Afghanistan will be my second combat tour.
3. What made you decide to join the military?
3. My dad is a Vietnam vet as are my uncles. Grandad served in WWII. I was going to enlist after high school but my dad wanted me to got college first. I took his advice. I worked full-time for Bank of America while I went to college full-time at night. At 22, I was one of the youngest corporate officers at BofA. The problem was my heart just wasn’t in banking. Driving home from work one day I decided I was going to enlist in the Army. I didn’t want to be 40 years old and wish I had served. Now I’m 41 and have no regrets. Best decision I ever made. The Army sent me to Harvard for grad school. While I was there, I met my wife. We now have three beautiful children — two boys and a girl. That’s the short version.
4. Switching gears, how did you find out about Operation Jack?
4. I found out about Operation Jack through Twitter. Saw some retweets of your posts. Checked out your website and was amazed and inspired by what you were doing.
5. What made you decide to be willing to do the run on the 26th?
5. I started following you on twitter and reading your blog. As a father I totally understand your motivation. As a daddy we want to slay the dragons in our children’s lives. Unfortunately, a child’s illness cannot be healed with brute force, or a hug and a kiss. We have to find a way to help. I’ve been blessed with three healthy children but I wanted to help you and Jack, even if it was in a very small way. When I saw your post about the Operation Jack Finale I really wanted to participate. I just decided I was going to do this regardless of where I was. In all honestly, there is somewhat of a selfish secondary reason for doing it. I’ll be at the beginning of 6-month deployment. Instead of feeling sorry for myself and focusing inward, I can focus on helping you help your son. If you can do 61 marathons in a year (an incredible feat) surely I can knock out a 10K the day after Christmas.
Wow, so I don’t even know what to say. I’ll just say that I’m totally honored to have somebody like John following along. Normally I have something witty or clever to say, but I just don’t this time. Thank you for following along and participating with Operation Jack. But most important, thank you for doing what you do for our country.
I was teaching my 9-year-old son about respect last week and soldiers were the first example I used of people who deserved respect. Soldiers put their life on their line, far away from home, for people they don’t even know. That’s as admirable as it gets. And as I told Benjamin, you guys are the bravest, toughest people in the country. Again, thank you for what you do. Stay safe and get the heck back here.
I See This Every Year And I Love It
Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg – or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul’s ally forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can’t tell a vet just by looking.
What is a vet?
He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel.
He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.
She or he—is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.
He is the POW who went away one person and came back another—or didn’t come back AT ALL.
He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat—but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other’s backs.
He is the parade—riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.
He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.
He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deep.
He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket—palsied now and aggravatingly slow—who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.
He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being—a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.
He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.
So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That’s all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.
Two little words that mean a lot, “THANK YOU.”
Remember November 11th is Veterans Day.
“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It
is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the
soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose
coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.”
Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC