It is 00:13 hours on November 2, 2018. Almost 15 years to the day since I enlisted in the U.S. Army, and I have just finished watching two hours of HBO’s “Generation Kill.”
Though I feel so many things right now, the overwhelming feeling is “..where has the time gone?”
In one light, I am not that different of a person from who I I was in 2003. Granted, less hair, and much better looking.
When I was 21, I sold my first startup. At the time the last thing I wanted to be was anything remotely connected to technology. I was an athlete; a badass. I still had a lot to prove.
So, like every 21 year old with a new, clean-and-clear Lexus, I did the most athletic thing I could think of: I joined the Army (of course, not the Marines, because of that OTHER Mattis.) A special thanks for Ric Francis, Johnny P, and the rest of my leadership team for not giving a fresh-off-the-truck kid from PA too much of a hard time for showing up day one with a fresh Lexus. Contrary to the rumors, I was NOT a drug dealer, just a computer programmer who wanted to do his part.
This simple decision made on a November morning would mean more than I could have ever imagined. It would introduce me to the most influential people of my life; it would teach me many lessons through many late nights in Savannah with my battles, and it would teach me courage, humility, candor, and loss.
What the hell was I thinking?
My timing could not have been better; my timing could not have been worse. At the time I had joined the Army, it was in the midst of what I will call the Army’s Agile journey (which, if you know anything of my career, is nothing short of ironic.) The Army had discovered that to fight a war on terror, the big batch approach to combat would not work. What they instead needed were small, autonomous, cross-functional teams who could take the fight to the enemy surgically, and fast. What they needed were soldiers with t-shaped skills who could perform a wide variety of missions.
As I type this, the irony of my career is becoming more ominous than ironic. What in the hell is the universe doing to me?
As we trained in a rapid sprint leading up to our December 2004 deployment to Iraq, our humble artillery company (who am I kidding, we were anything but humble. ALPHA DAWGS) learned everything from convoy security to personal security, to raids, and a bunch of other skills that were anything other than the string-pulling, round-slinging tasks that we had enlisted for.
At least the bonus cleared.
For all of the training, for all of the careful prep that our leaders toiled over, nothing could have prepared us for what our journey through Iraq in 2005 threw our way.
Not to say that our story is unique compared to any other unit who endured the nearly endless string of grenades, rocket and mortar attacks, suicide bombers, vehicle-born improvised explosive devises, and explosively formed projectiles with which Iraq welcomed us in 2005. All I can tell is the solemn story of our artillery battalion and the heroes who never came home.
As I write this, I am even less clear of the point as when I started writing. But what I do know, is that by the end of this, I will have one.
Sitting in my comfortable urban San Antonio home 15 years after enlistment, the world looks different, but much the same. The work that I do today is not entirely different than the work I did before the sale of my business in mid-2003. I am helping people make the world a better place for their customers and employees. What is most different is likely the size of the company and the level of the leader with whom I work.
In 2003 I was working with what I would now consider small businesses. Today I have the honor of working with the senior leaders in some of the largest and most respected organizations in America. Size and pay grade aside, the mission is the same.
Why the hell am I here?
I should have died in 2005. Not once, not twice, but many times.
What am I still here? Why am I allowed to make the many mistakes I have when Drier, Fischer, Wallace, Carrasquillo, Tackett, Smith, Lopez, Walker, Seven, and Allen never had the chance to screw up on a similarly grand scale?
What possible purpose could I have that afforded me the luxury of escaping the countless attacks that should have killed me?
I have no answer, but one thing is for sure: I live each day in honor of and to fill the gap left by those men.
The most significant of these attacks took place on December 8th, 2005. The day Kevin died, and the day that my friendship with Kebs and Terry was cemented until the end of time. I have no idea how any of us made it through that day alive. I have no idea why a great man like Kevin Smith was taken, and three a-holes like Terry, Krebs, and myself were allowed to walk away. Ted, you’re different. None of us question why you were able to walk away (and thank you for continuing to be a fantastic leader of soldiers to this day.)
Since my medical retirement from the Army in 2006, I have dedicated my life to helping others find balance, harmony, and transcendent purpose in the work that they do. It has not always been easy, but each day that challenges me I am reminded of those dark days in Iraq. Those days where all I wanted was a shower that wasn’t full of nasty water up to my ankles.
Of days where I wanted to meet Jessica Simpson but was told that I was too dirty to enter the facility where she and Nick Lachey were signing autographs.
Those days where the lives of great men who paid the ultimate price were honored in a land that gave birth to civilization.
I will never forget the lessons that were taught to me by men with whom I rarely speak. I am forever changed by the relationships, brotherhood, and leadership of people that I consider family. I will forever share the stories of the men lost and the eternally painful lessons of war among the captive audience that I am honored to serve.
What I have learned through the many years of challenge, turbulence, and enlightenment following my days in combat is that there is no greater love than what exists among humans. When you strip a person down to their most vulnerable state, what is left is the shell of a person who is craving compassion, understanding, empathy, and camaraderie. We are creatures built for love, even when in circumstances that could not be further from loving.
To the battle buddies who I have not spoken to in far too long: you are my brothers. I love you all deeply and unconditionally. I have your back, and I will never forget the times we shared and the support we will always have for each other.
To the clients that I work with: I know that I can be hard on you at times, and I understand that I push you harder than you think may be appropriate. Please know that I do this from a place of love, and greater expectation. You are all fantastic humans capable of amazing things. I have seen the best of humanity, and the worst, and I know in my heart that you are all among the best. My expectations of you are high, and my love for you is sincere. We will arrive at our summit together, sweaty, a little bloody, but always together. We will look down from the mountain and laugh at the journey endured together. Though, while still underway know that I push you because I know what you are capable of. To you, at the moment, it may seem confusing but be assured that I have your back now and always.
To the brothers who have gone before, know that I am doing my best to live a life of honor and impact in your absence. You are on my mind today and every day, and will always be even as my mind ages and becomes grey. Our lives are forever intertwined. I love you all. I will never forget you. I will spend my remaining days on this rock living in your honor.
To us, and those like us. Damn few. Thank you.
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