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Whatever it takes

Dec 5, 2017

I’m in a very unfamiliar place at the moment. For the first time in my life, I have a flush of emotions that I can not define, and therefore am unable to resolve. I’m in a good place, a very good place, but the emotion is not excitement. It’s a mixture of fear and pressure combined with confidence and pride.

My father served our nation for 23 years in the United States Navy. I was born at the Weapons Station in Charleston, SC and although the hospital I was born in no longer exists, the patriotism they delivered that day is stronger than ever. I was raised to love this country and the hardworking people who call this land home. The President I was born under - I didn’t vote for, yet that never mattered. What mattered is, as a family, we take care of each other and as a nation, we are a family.

As I navigated my way through grade school, moving every few years - meeting and accepting new people was a practice I became good at. In order to make friends, you had to be a friend. My love for our nation grew right alongside my love for its people.

My first attempt to join the military left me rejected. I vividly remember coming home from the physical, going into my room and laying from one corner to the other, across my bed. My shoes hung off the left side, and face down I drenched my pillow with a river of broken dreams. I remember my mom trying to comfort me, yet nothing she said made it better. I prayed for the opportunity to serve - “I’ll do whatever it takes” and I meant it.

As I attempted to re-invent myself, I quickly learned that a college degree was not in the cards either. After a second consecutive semester making the “Dean’s List”  (no, not that one - the other one) he politely made room on the campus for someone else to fulfill their dreams. My medical enlistment waiver could not have been more a timely lifesaver.

Off I went, into the Wild Blue Yonder! I became whole again. The above and beyond work that my recruiter, MSgt Mona Naragon did to simply give me a chance, forever shaped my life.

As I traveled the globe, I came to realize just how special our piece of the planet truly is. It’s unlike any other place on Earth and it’s worth defending, even if it cost me my life. I became incredibly grateful for the opportunities that were afforded to me by our nation. My initial patriotism grew in intensity - I fully and finally realized what makes our nation so special is its citizens and the men and women who give their all to defend it.

I became a military recruiter.  It was imperative that our way of life be protected, and I took it upon myself to ensure there would always be someone here to preserve our freedom. I processed waiver after waiver and if anyone wanted to join me, I did my best to give them the opportunity. It pained me when I was unable to enlist a patriot who was unqualified to serve. I led the nation in accessions my first year and I continue that successful career today 17 years later. 

My career, our nation, was threatened by an enemy I had failed to identify. Years before, flying into Bosnia, taking on small arms fire, didn’t have the same impact on me as failing my fitness assessment did. I had accepted and calculated that risk, and was I prepared to do what our nation called upon me to do. However, when I failed a series of fitness assessments, I felt like I let my country down. No matter how much I knew it, no matter how hard I tried, there was a missing link in my brain that connected my fitness ability to the mission. I eventually figured it out. I don’t fully grasp how I figured it out, but I know with more clarity than I’ve ever had, I need to deliver this message to leaders and policy makers on behalf of our nation.

When the invitation arrived to deliver my testimony to Washington, DC I accepted without hesitation.  I didn’t fully understand just what I had agreed to do until just moments ago as I began to key these letters together to form words.  Once I landed in our Nation’s Capital, I wanted to spend the day preparing. For the most part, I just considered this to be another opportunity to tell my story.  It’s a story I’ve told a few times to other members of the military who could easily relate to much of what I struggled with.  Speaking to an audience has never bothered me, and in this case, I have a firm grasp of the content.  It’s a story of my life - the details are vivid and I don’t need a script.  I’ve briefed Generals and audiences in excess of 10 thousand.  From a pressure and confidence standpoint, this was sure to be no different.  Nonetheless, I wanted to mentally prepare myself.  

I made my way to the Capitol building - if change is going to happen, it’s going to happen here. I needed to visualize it, and being there was imperative. I’ve seen the building many times before, it has always been a symbol of our country, but as I stood there this time, it looked different.  I truly saw it as the starting point for the change I wish to make happen.  From there, the next stop was the White House.  The beginning and end of the change process would happen within these two buildings.  The fact that I was solely responsible for initiating this change dropped a heavy burden squarely on my shoulders. I’m in a very unique position to advocate for the change I want to see in the world. I confidently feel, there is no one better to deliver this message, at this time.  I’ve been given the stage, I’ve been given the right audience yet I am just the messenger. If I fail to deliver the message properly, there may never be another opportunity like this. Our leaders are busy, if my voice, the collective voice from our community, does not make an impact, another topic will quickly make its way through the change process. It was this realization that brings about a sense of fear and responsiblity I have never experienced before.

Feeling the weight of the word on my shoulders, I headed to Arlington National Cemetery to be amongst the most heroic people I know. I came seeking their strength, courage and guidance. Dressed in only jeans and a tshirt, I was not fully prepared to spend the December afternoon outside.  I entered the sacred ground and without direction headed to Section 60.  I’ve been here a few times so I confidently navigated my way to Major Troy Gilbert’s gravesite.   Major Gilbert inspires me by the way that he led his life, and the way that he raised his family to be the catalyst for change.  If anyone here knew what I was up against, this hero would be the one who is able to guide me.  

The walk to see him was chilly, my intentions were to make a quick appearance, gather my thoughts and head back to the city.  We began to chat, I rambled on and then I stood quietly.  The confusion continued, and Troy offered me a seat, to spend some time really talking it out.  The long periods of silence were only interrupted by my incoherent ramblings.  I visited with him until I had the answers that I needed.  I didn’t realize it, but I was there for a full hour. I fought back the tears as I sat there for a bit and eventually I layed down beside him.  It was extremely peaceful and I was comforted by a blanket of warmth that can only be described as heavenly.  I came seeking this hero's guidance and I did not leave there disappointed.  I exchanged a text message with his family, to thank them for his sacrifice, his guidance and to warn them, that if they get to meet him again before I do, he will likely ask them who I am and why do I just sit there and ramble so much.  

I found my answers. The message is simple.  We have a great nation, we need to take care of each other, we are in this together and we are family.  The best way to preserve our way of life is to ensure that the men and women who dedicate their life, in whole or in part, to her defense are cared for.  This provides the foundational walls for which the rest of our nation can thrive.

I stood, snapped a crisp salute and began my walk back to the entrance.  It wasn’t 10 feet into my return that the temperature caught back up with me.  It was an unmistakable sign that my time spent preparing for this journey had been orchestrated from above. There is no one more qualified nor more prepared to be the messenger for change. My prayers have been answered, I’ve been tapped on the shoulder and it’s time to make a difference. When I begged for the opportunity to serve, I said I would do ‘whatever it takes’.  

I’m doing whatever it takes!