Memorial Day Mission: Talk about the friends you lost
I never, ever talk about how my friends died. Ever. The location, Iraq, Afghanistan, or back in the US and the reason, the bark of an old Soviet RPK or the dust, shrapnel and destruction of an IED - the description and conditions of their death do not matter. It’s not that I don’t want people to know about their service. I do want them to know. I want people to remember who they were, how they served, and why the lessons of these four Special Forces (Green Beret) veterans need to be remembered and discussed on Memorial Day. These men died, but it was how they lived and how they served that needs to be remembered on Memorial Day. My mission for veterans this Memorial Day is for them to remember, talk about, and embrace the values of their friends who died.
Chief Warrant Officer Bill Howell taught me how to be a Special Forces (SF) Officer. I came to my team new and inexperienced and Bill arrived as a new SF Weapons Sergeant a few weeks later. Next week, we were doing reflexive fire shooting drills and Bill resolved to make me better, a lot better. It most parts of the Army, a Sergeant training a Captain would be unusual. In the Special Forces, it was expected and understood. Bill taught me the importance of being both a great teacher and an eager student.
Master Sergeant Tony Yost was another new comer to my SF unit. Tony was another new SF Weapons Sergeant that was strong, tough-as-nails, dedicated, professional, and he loved to joke, especially at a young officer’s expense. Late one night, while preparing for 20-30 SF soldiers to go on a patrolling exercise, Tony started at me blankly as I finished up the patrol order. As I asked for questions, Tony raised his hand, and stated, “that he was not impressed with my plan,” and felt I should redo the briefing. Tony brought down the room in laughter and gave me a needed dose of humility. Tony taught me to strive to always be better, and not to take myself too seriously.
Master Sergeant Richard “Fergie” Ferguson was a legend in the 10th Special Forces Group. Fergie could make friends with anyone . . . best friends and do it in about 5 minutes. In Bosnia, I was talking with one of my good friends in the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Serb city of Brcko, a violent and contested area. We got a report of a group of angry Serbs headed our way. By the time we got there, Fergie was sitting out front with the “angry” Serbs, drinking the local Serbian brandy, telling stories, and having a ball. Fergie taught me the more serious the matter, the greater the importance of humor and seeing people as people, not enemies.
Command Sergeant Major Brad Connor was one of the best military skiers that I ever saw. One of the missions that we had in my Special Forces unit was to have the capability to downhill ski. So, every year, we went with heavy hearts into the ski resorts and mountains of Colorado to perform our arduous task of being paid to ski. When I first met Brad, I was trying to dig myself out of a snow bank after I plunged in head first while I learned to downhill ski with an 80lb backpack. As I dug myself out, I looked through snow covered eyes as Brad skied beautifully down a double black diamond run and then went through trees with the same 80- lbs rucksack. Brad taught me the value of hard work and always, always improving your skills.
This Memorial Day enjoy the parades, the recognition, the cookouts, and the beer under shade trees far from Baghdad, Wanat, Da Nang, Normandy, Panama City, Kuwait, Mogadishu, Point Salines, Pusan, and the hundreds of other locations where Americans have shed their blood. These four friends of mine were great combat soldiers who led by example and who died serving. The most important task this Memorial Day and the days after is to speak about the friends you lost, who they were, and why they mattered. Remembrance, not of how they died, but how they lived is the recognition our fallen vets deserve.
About the writer:
Chad is the author of two books how to translate and apply military experience to business: Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and Battlefield to Business Success. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer with 20-plus years of service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He has served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.
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