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The hardest part about Memorial Day is that it’s a holiday that just does not feel good. I love the day off and I love the time with my wife and family, I just don’t like the reason for the day off. Memorial Day is a day when we need to remember the military personnel lost in combat as people and not just as a number in a conflict, a gravestone marker, or a nameless image.
I speak to my kids about my friends that were lost to keep their memories alive. It’s meaningless to my children to become better men just to appreciate a loss. I want my kids to appreciate the type of people that they were, because that makes the appreciation of the loss painful and that is what remembering people who died in combat needs to be.
A Day Appreciating Kentucky in Bosnia. When I was on my 2nd (or 3rd) rotation through Bosnia, I was visiting my friend, “Larry” - a Special Forces Team Leader, in one of the most contested cities in Bosnia where maintaining the Dayton Peace Accords was a daily challenge. I was patrolling my part of the sector as part of another Special Forces team stationed with many Russian soldiers and decided to go see “Larry” at his house in the Bosnian city. “Larry” was there and after lunch, we decided to sit on his deck and, like all good officers, just sit and do nothing while sipping some good memories of the South. After we had been sitting a while, “Larry’s” Team Sergeant pulls up and sees us sitting there. He launches into a tirade not because of what we were doing, but because we had not invited him. For my next 2 years in my Special Forces Group, “Larry’s” Team Sergeant told that story to anyone and everyone so that my name became famous for never letting a break pass me by. “Larry’s” Team Sergeant was later killed in Iraq. What made him so well liked and respected was his humor, his care of his team, his ability to work well with the most difficult people, and his ability, no matter the conditions, to rally his team to train and to perform well on deployment. So, instead of remembering the crack, boom and dust cloud of an IED or the snap of an AK, I remember the warmth, humor, passion, and leadership of a great Special Forces Leader.
A Lesson from Will. One of the hard parts that Special Forces officers experience when they come to a Special Forces Group is going from one of the best to being mediocre at best. When I was in the Infantry, I was one of the fastest runners in my company, one of the most skilled shooters, and very physically fit. When I joined my Special Forces Team, I was the slowest runner, the worst shot, and, you get my point. Will, the Junior Weapon’s Sergeant, made it a point to teach me how to shoot. Will was willing to give me a single lesson. The “single” lesson lasted months and involved pistols, rifles, machine guns, and threat weapons until I was evaluated as “moderately” skilled by the Team Sergeant, easily one of my proudest evaluations. Will’s death was very hard on me and remains a hole in me even today. What I carry from Will is the belief in the importance of teaching, re-teaching, and improving another person’s ability level. Today, I teach my kids, I teach college students, and I teach businesses. Will’s belief in that I could be better and his willingness to invest his time to make me better is a central lesson in my life. Today, if I have the choice, I do not want people to remember how Will died. Instead, I want them to remember Will’s absolute expertise and professionalism at his job, his ability to teach, his humor, and his passion to get better every day.
Learn what you can do to honor these service members and why it’s important to keep them in memory here.
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About the Author: Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 400 articles in over 200 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics. Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better. Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management. Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @CombatToCorp
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