I feel compelled to write. Maybe it’s these words that are drawing me to the keyboard. Things come to me at the most unusual time. Moments ago I was laying down my 3 year old son, crossing my fingers he’d lay down for his much needed nap but I unintentionally drifted off to sleep with him and as I began to crossover into the ether I start to see pictures in my mind of the American flag: folded, images of it flying high with pride and a representation of freedom and the lives that have lost defending our freedom. Maybe it’s because today is also Super Bowl Sunday, (also one of the first super bowls and first seasons of NFL football I’ve completely turned my head on). I consider it a privilege to live here in such a beautiful country. So many people will never truly understand the sacrifices behind that red white and blue flag. They will never embrace a spouse who is now classified a widow because her husband is never coming home. They will never drop a knee to the patriots’ children whom he left behind. And then, then we must talk about the veterans! The men and women who have served our Country who are here today who have gone through shit we cant even imagine as civilians.
Recently, I read the book “TRIBE” by Sebastian Junger and it talks about how our military go out everyday and are a part of a group of men and women who will die for each other and some do – in fact some watch their brothers and sisters in-arms take their own life so that another can live. Others lose arms, legs, and sometimes both- its sacrifice, its honor. We bring them back into a fucked up society where there is no longer a tribe to support them. I barely know my neighbors; except for the time the man came out and yelled at us for our dogs barking, or the note I got on my car that stated ‘Do not park so close to my boat.’ These are the interactions we have as a community. The only times we come together are during times of tragedy- we come closer. We share, we interact, we have more compassion and we love. My love for my military extends way back. I get asked a lot if I have served and the answer is well… no, I haven’t. But does that mean I should have lesser pride from my country because I have no time under my belt overseas?
My first direct interaction with the military was when I became a contracted trainer for the US Navy and US Air Force. I helped active duty men and women reach a better PRT (Physical readiness test) score as well as train their spouses while their loved ones were deployed. I learned two things in that moment. One, I think the military PRT test has it all wrong (I’ll talk about this in another blog, just like the food pyramid is fucked up also) and two, it takes a hell of a woman to uphold her family while her loved one is deployed and the same applies if it’s a man- makes no difference. But in those moments you can lose yourself or you can make yourself stronger. For example, the decision of a Widow: you can weep in your sorrows, drink all the wine bottles your friends drop off for you, or you instead allow yourself to heal by facing your emotions, head-on, rather than drowning them with alcohol or pills.
You can find a tribe of people to make you stronger, or to become a better for yourself and your family. The Veterans who have suffered visible loss: an arm or a leg are easy to spot while others suffer silently, their injuries unseen but equally as damaging. These guys aren’t the problem: we, as a community, are the problem. We no longer have a TRIBE mindset. Our veterans come home, see our flag being disrespected, wondering where they even belong anymore and they remember their brothers and sisters who gave their life right in front of them while the PTSD clinicians are shoving more pills down their throat because ‘they’ have the problem. I believe it’s completely opposite. There is a HUGE problem when people with these massive platforms: performers, athletes, and others who actively disrespect the flag-you say its freedom of speech- well this is the same damn freedom of speech these men and women have physically shed blood and died for. More importantly though is to consider what we’re teaching our children? How many schools these days are even standing and saying the pledge of allegiance? When I opened American Brew, my coffee whiskey bar in Virginia Beach; I reached out to a local veteran to build my bar out of old refurbished wood- since getting out of the military he was diagnosed with PTSD and soon decided to start his own small woodworking business. He had a difficult time reintegrating because he didn’t feel like he belonged anymore and six months later, he committed suicide.
I was asked to be a part of a key-turning ceremony with Homes for Troops in Northern Virginia for a wounded servicemember and his family. Most Americans begin their week with the only intention of ending it; crossing off the days until the weekend arrives – only to spend it in selfish endeavors. We are defined by the sum of our actions and without purpose those actions become hollow acts of muscle memory, empty and without substance. This insidious way of life slowly removes our gratefulness for the everyday things: time with family and friends, careers, hobbies, and our passions. We take them for granted.
In 2007, JP deployed on a second tour to far-away lands to fight far-away enemies and Brittney couldn’t will the weeks and days and months to go by. I can attest the reality of this myself, that time can stand still. The anniversaries become just another Tuesday, the birthdays blur together, the holidays turn into pseudo-holidays because the one you love the most won’t be there; can’t be there. Most people will never understand the sacrifice a military family is required to make; the hardships, the strain on relationships, the extended periods of uncertainty and worry punctuated with a quick phone call to say “I’m still alive, I love you.” On a Thursday night, in a country where most people can’t find on a map, duty called and JP delivered the fight to the enemy. That same night, several thousand miles apart, Brittney and JP’s life changed in a split-second. Their plans for the future, for their life, came to a grinding halt. He went to preserve the American way of life, to secure the privileges and opportunities we so easily take for granted. The American people owe a debt of gratitude to JP and the Men and Women who give so much of themselves for our freedoms. Saying ‘thank you’ will never be enough.
The love and respect and relationship I have with not (just) JP but for his wife; she has became such a great friend and the point to all this rambling is this… I am a Patriot. I love my country and I will always defend the ones I love and protect the ones that I can. The respect for the ones who have given their entire life will always be held in the highest regards, to some I wish others would understand- to the spouses who lost their loved ones, I believe they are the strongest warriors, may their legacy live on and be told to their children by their TRIBE. To the Veterans, my heart cringes that you have to see the actions of the ones who have lost touch with reality, and for that I’m deeply sorry. Every year at my gym in Virginia Beach, Virginia we host a 24 hour workout called Vets Valor where myself, my community and people from all over workout with these adaptive athletes as a TRIBE to raise money for a Veteran non-profit.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this: one of my favorites who also has so much passion for his Country, Andy Stumpf
“I’m sorry that you have never smelled the breath of a man who wants to kill you. I am sorry that you have never felt the alarm bells ringing in your body, the combination of fear and adrenaline, as you move towards the fight, instead of running from it. I am sorry you have never heard someone cry out for help, or cried out for help yourself, relying on the courage of others to bring you home. I am sorry you have never tasted the salt from your own tears, as you stand at a flag draped coffins, burying men you were humbled to call your friends. I don’t wish those experiences on you, but I wish you had them. It would change the way you act, it would change the way you value, it would change the way you appreciate. You become quick to open your eyes, and slow to open your mouth.
Most will never understand the sacrifice required to keep men from that compound away from our doorstep, but it would not hurt you to try. It would not hurt you to take a moment to respect the sacrifices that others make on your behalf, whether they share your opinions or not. It would not hurt you to take a moment to think of the relentless drain on family, friends, and loved ones that are left behind. Ideas are not protected by words. Paper may outline the foundation and principles of this nation, but it is blood that protects it.
In that compound, a man you have never met gave everything he had, so that YOU, have the freedom to think, speak, and act however you choose. He went there for all of us, whether you loved him, or hated what he stood for. He went there to preserve the opportunity and privilege to believe, to be, and to become what we want. This country, every single person living inside of its borders and under the banner of its flag, owe that man. We owe that man everything. We owe him the respect that his sacrifice deserves.
Saying thank you is not enough.
We send our best, and lose them, in the fight against the worst this world has to offer. If you want to respect and honor their sacrifice, it needs to be more than words. You have to live it.” by @ANDYSTUMPF212 (IG)