Events this last week had me thinking about some young women and men that I had the honor of coaching on various Antelope Valley sports teams throughout the years. It really hit home when that tragic suicide bomber attack took place on Aug. 26, 2021. Our heroes in uniform became the faces of a 20-year mission; a mission which attempted to change hearts and souls and remove an ugliness from the world that manifested as evil which, on 9/11, became a focal point of just how fragile life is when the wolf comes to the door in our own neighborhoods.
One young man I coached, who became a lifelong friend, is named Mike. I will leave the rest of his name in the shadows for a reason that never goes away, as you will see when you read on. As a local high school boy, he spent a lot of time with me and my family as we went to air shows and military events. He came to know and befriend many of the World War II veterans we would travel with to school programs, inspired by their stories of sacrifice and service to country. Mike was the all-American kid that grew into an amazing young man. When the time came to move on with his life, I was a bit proud when he chose my old military service branch as his calling and joined the Air Force.
It was around 2000 when he left for basic training and technical school, where he would train to become a military policeman. Somewhere in that training, it was discovered that Mike had a very special skill that would change his life forever. The young man who loved hunting with his family had a skill with a rifle that caught the attention of higher-ups. Before long he was training to become one of the “tips of the spear,” as they say of a certain class of American combatants. Special ops are made up of all branches of the military. Many of those elite teams find themselves serving side-by-side with Airmen in covert operations that will never make the headlines but are a big part of why we are safe in our homes here in America.
On 9/11, little did Mike know that within hours he would be on the ground in Afghanistan with a special ops group of brothers that would take the fight to those that gave us a black eye on that fateful day. In private, years later, he shared some of the incredible stories of sacrifice of his fellow soldiers who would at one moment just be soldiers with time on their hands, and in a matter of hours, be facing life and death on a hillside in a faraway land. Mike had many close calls “over there” and today he carries some scars of just how close those calls came to taking his life. We are lucky to still have him around.
Mike also spoke of the people in Afghanistan and how the kids were no different than the kids in America, who were just looking for a hand up and a chance to have some happiness. In the chaos of a nation at war, it was the American soldier that tried to separate the innocent from combatants. It wasn’t about politics and policy; it was about young American soldiers trying to make a difference in communities where the enemy looked no different than the innocent citizen. Once, when Mike returned, he shared the story with some local school kids about how he and a couple of his fellow soldiers would keep an eye out for trouble while, at a local dirt-floor school, a woman was doing her best to give young girls a chance at an education. She did it at her own risk, as she could very well have sacrificed her own life in that attempt.
Now, after 20 years of conflict, we look back on what took place, and the dialog is as divided as ever as to what is right and what is wrong. How do we gauge success or failure, when so many have given so much of themselves to carry out a mission they were ordered to do on behalf of our country? My friend Mike was one of the lucky ones who came home and today finds peace in raising his family with his wife, but I know full well Mike sees the events playing out in a way citizens will never understand, as they only see information that politicians or the media choose to convey. Mike saw it as a soldier and, like every other soldier that served over there in the last twenty years, it’s up to them and them only to measure the cost and tell “we the people” if it was worth it or not, and if what we are now doing makes any sense. Sure, we got rid of some really bad people over there and the price was high, but the unknown of the future is what causes my soul to feel uneasy now. I know that right now there are thousands more Mikes in school, playing sports and living the life of a teenager that will answer a call of service to our country. It will be those citizens of our nation and others around the world that will be the beneficiaries of the work and sacrifice of the American Soldier who, more often than not, is the red line in the sand that stands on their behalf in the future.
Each and every one of us will reflect in our own personal way come the 20th anniversary of 9/11. All the speeches and ceremonies will only bring small comfort to those who lost loved ones on that day and over the last 20 years. Let’s just take the emotions and use that energy to embrace our military families who now have loved ones in harm’s way and remember the statement, “Nobody wants peace more than the soldier, for in the end it’s he or she that is the one to give their lives for it.”
Until next time, pray for peace, and remember. Bob out!