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I was fortunate to grow up as the son and grandson of U.S. Army infantrymen. My grandfather was a paratrooper in the 1940s, my other grandfather fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and my dad was a Green Beret who served in the first Gulf War.
I grew up in Fort Bragg, Fort Benning and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. As a kid, I watched my dad jump out of airplanes and helped him unpack his rucksack after long field exercises. Most of the books I read in high school were about military history and strategy. We often visited Civil War battlefields and, naturally, most of the games my brother and I played involved toy guns and camouflage.
When I finished high school, I ended up in the U.S. Army as a young private. I signed up for the Rangers and I remember my dad urging me to learn an advanced skill instead of the rigid discipline and standards the Rangers demanded. I didn't listen.
A year later, I was finished up with the training and was assigned to the 3rd Ranger Battalion in Fort Benning. After another year or two of midnight live-fire training, 15-mile hikes with 100 pound packs and learning how to fight and survive in climates around the world, I had also learned lessons that would serve me well later in civilian life.
In the summer of 1993, my unit deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia, destined to add a short paragraph to the pages of American History in the battle made famous by the movie "Black Hawk Down." I was so close that day to a level of heroism and sacrifice and service that it humbles me to this day.
I often reflect on these unseen and unpublished acts that Americans have given throughout our history. I am always amazed that young men and women leave their comfortable homes to undergo months or years of combat, and have done this since the founding of our country.
I imagine that the soldier freezing at Valley Forge night after night probably had some of the same fears and thoughts as the soldier sitting on the side of some nameless mountain in Afghanistan. I would think that the guys who made the climatic charge at Gettysburg or the landing at Normandy fought the same instincts to break and run for cover and somehow decided to stay and fight.
What does it really feel like to leave the relative safety of a base camp in Vietnam and walk out into the jungle, knowing they are out there waiting? I think of these things from time to time and I am just so proud that even in this day, young kids are choosing to fight our battles for us. It really is amazing that our country still inspires the patriotism and selflessness required for us all to be free.
I will be one of those guys at the grocery store this weekend, loading up on charcoal and hamburger patties. I will probably buy a few fireworks and those tiny little flags and spend Monday afternoon getting the yard cleaned up and enjoying the day off.
I will remember my friend that was killed in Somalia many years ago, and salute all of those brave men and women who died fighting for this country.