I found this picture in an old email folder, it is my view of a valley from a sniper over watch position in Afghanistan, 2010. I was going to post it as a Throwback Thursday, but the more I looked at the image, the more it got me thinking about the world of today, much more than the world of seven years ago.
Life is precious. It should be protected at all costs. Whether you agree with it, or despise it, sometimes that means taking the lives of others. I am aware that the two proceeding sentences are at odds with one another. Unfortunately, concepts and realities are often not parallel. Please take my word that there are those who would destroy you, regardless of what your “you” is. Those individuals are the vast statistical minority, but they can inflict damage and destruction well beyond their numbers.
There is a moral dilemma, burden, and cost to taking a life. Regardless of what is portrayed in the movies, there is no one standing over your shoulder to tell you when you should pull the trigger, and when you should exercise restraint. You alone stand for the actions you take, you alone bear the responsibility. It can be the loneliest place on earth, especially when you are flirting with the boundaries of uncertainty. In the wrong hands, weapons can be used for evil. In the right hands, they can stop evil in its tracks.
You can choose not to pick up a weapon, burying your head in the sand, hoping that others will solve problems on your behalf. This position allows you to judge without action, to sit on the sidelines and complain about the rules of a game, without actually playing in it. When you stand behind those engaged in the fight, refusing to engage yourself, you rely on their sacrifice to keep you safe.
You can choose to hold the line, standing shoulder to shoulder, sharing the load and bearing the burden. Men and women who make this choice have dedicated themselves to protecting those behind them, and will sacrifice themselves for the person on their left and right. This decision requires the realization that there is more to life, and more to this world than “you.”
You can choose to stand in front of those who have weapons, despising what they stand for. Although this may seem like the bravest position, it is far from it. It is easy to destroy, it is easy to throw “stones.” These people attack out of sense of entitlement, not purpose. They are certain that “their” way is the only way. These people often claim to be standing for a cause, but it is a façade, and behind it, they are standing for themselves, and their own self-interest.
It is easy to focus on the weapon, but you shouldn’t, it’s a distraction. Take them away, the gun, the knife, the megaphone, and nothing changes. A human being remains, stripped bare, to the essence, and only quality that matters, Character. Those who would choose to run, will. Those who would choose to hold the line, will hold the line. Those who would choose to destroy, will stop at nothing. Each of these individuals is defined by their character, not what they hold in their hands.
I believe we are witnessing a crisis of character in this country. We have become a nation of “me,” instead of a society of “we.” I see it on the news, where crowds of people choose to film with their phones, or stand by passively ignoring a situation, instead of stepping in to do the right thing. I see it in our elected officials, the celebrities we worship, and everyone in between. I see it on social media platforms, where individuals converse in a consequence free environment, using language that would not be tolerated in person. I see it in daily personal interactions, where the gravitational center of the universe is the individual, with no concern, care, or thought given to how actions and words impact those around them. You do not have to look far to find these things, and they are eroding the foundation of this country.
I would not be the man I am today if it were not for the examples others provided. The examples started long before I joined the military, working in a physically challenging job with my father. I learned the value of hard work, and the importance of deriving motivation and discipline from within. I learned that no one owes me anything, that my success or failure rides on my shoulders alone, regardless of what happens to the world around me. These lessons were reinforced throughout my military service, molding me into the soldier I would become. It has always been, and remains to this day, my deepest fear that I would let down those who depend on me in moments that count. That I would be the weak link. It was the character of those around me that illuminated the path, setting the example I would follow to ensure that never happened. They were there for me when I strayed, to help point me in the right direction, but I had to put the work in, they could not do it for me.
I was fortunate enough to spend my life surrounded by those that understood the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder. I was raised to care more about the load of the person next to me than the weight bearing down on my own shoulders. I was taught that it is my responsibility to stand for those who may be unable to stand for themselves. I was taught to consider the consequences of my actions, on others, not just myself. There is no instant gratification in that recipe, it is painful more often than comfortable, because it matters.
If you want to make a difference, you don’t need a gun, you need character. If you claim to care about this country and the people around you, do something. You don’t need a fancy job title or huge social media following, you need the conviction to do the right thing, to set the example. Think before you speak. Take a moment of reflection before you vomit something out on a social media platform. Consider your actions. If you see something that is wrong, do something about it. Don’t bury your head in the sand in hopes that it will go away, it won’t. Be a beacon, illuminate the path for others.
We have the most powerful weaponry in the world, but it cannot protect us. We will be destroyed by our own lack of character, long before ordinance from a foreign country.