Marne Faces, Marne Places: From a veteran on Veterans Day: Thank you
November 17, 2010
Sergeant Blake Stephens was the type of guy you wanted to go on patrol with.
He seemed to love everything about being a Soldier - he kept his weapon in immaculate condition; he talked about room clearing procedures with the same zeal he talked about dirt bikes (his other passion); when he went outside the wire as part of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team's security detachment, his vehicle was always out front.
The guy loved what he did and that sentiment came through in every task he performed. His platoon leader at the time, Capt. Steve Hemmann, once recalled a conversation in which Sgt. Stephens passionately explained that defending your country was one of the greatest honors which could be bestowed upon anyone.
He went on to say when someone dies for their country he didn't think it was a shame. In his mind, sacrificing your life for your country was the ultimate expression of patriotism. In his mind, giving your life for your country wasn't a tragedy; it was an honor.
While I wasn't present for that conversation, I was in the convoy a month later when Sgt. Blake Stephens lost his life in a roadside bomb attack.
At his memorial, countless tears were shed. The brigade commander took the podium and promoted then-Spc. Stephens to sergeant. His fellow Soldiers said a prayer for his parents and wife. It was a sad moment for us all, but in that sadness Capt. Hemmann recalled those words and I knew Sgt. Blake Stephens died doing what he loved. He died the way he lived - out front and unafraid.
As Veterans Day comes and goes, we pay tribute to men and women like Sgt. Stephens. Today's generation of veterans volunteered in a time of war. In the Army, signing up almost guarantees you will go overseas to a dangerous place. Yet even with this knowledge hundreds of men and women like him still volunteer and still leave their friends and Families to go defend them and our way of life.
By stepping foot in a place like Iraq or Afghanistan, Soldiers put themselves at risk; even the ones with the "safe" jobs.
Despite all of this, the Army continues to meet its retention goals. In fact, it has exceeded them the last three years. This tells me that Sgt. Blake Stephens wasn't the only Soldier that loved his job and treasured serving his country.
I love what I do. Like any job, it has its ups and downs. I've missed a lot of things being a Soldier, but I've always gone to bed at night with pride in what my unit accomplished and the part I played in it.
I hold my head a little higher when my son tells strangers that his dad is a Soldier. I feel a little overwhelmed when my wife talks about what I do with pride. I get embarrassed when people I haven't talked to in years ask me about my deployments and tell me how they don't see how I did the things I did.
I don't feel like a superhero. I don't feel special, but people sometimes treat me like I am both. To be honest, it feels great and humbling at the same time.
On Veterans Day, the country will tell me and my fellow service men and women "thank you." I will appreciate it. I always do. Missing the holidays, the weddings, the funerals and all of those special moments that Families go through is hard, but it is made easier knowing that people recognize that sacrifice and will thank me for taking it on.
Sergeant Stephens was right. It is an honor to serve your country. It does give you a sense of pride that can't be explained to anyone that hasn't done it. While many of you will thank me for my service, I just want to thank my country for the opportunity to serve it. It has enriched my life more than most could ever know.
Whatever happens in the coming years, no one will be able to take away the experiences I have gained. I may never get to meet men and women like Sgt. Blake Stephens when I get out of the Army, but my enlistment did give me that honor.
I won't always be a Soldier, but I always have the honor of being called a veteran. It is an honor that I will always cherish.