I prayed my written Veterans Day Prayer, but he spoke from his heart. The general began his keynote address by telling the largely Spanish-speaking crowd in the little community center how he grew up picking watermelons in the hot Texas summer. Somehow he managed to find a way to attend a small state college where a veteran officer inspired him to join the ROTC program. Now, three decades later, the general serves at the highest ranks of the Army. He credited the Army with giving him a way out of the poverty and enriching his life in many ways. His story resonated with the crowd from one of the city’s poorer neighborhoods.
Frequently breaking into his native Spanish, he went on to talk about the camaraderie that he has experienced within the ranks and among veterans of every generation. Every generation, he said, has the responsibility to build on the legacy of those who came before and to set the next generation up for success. He spoke in glowing terms about the character of the newest generation of Soldiers and told the veterans that they could be proud of those who have taken up the mantle of military service.
He talked about the children in Afghanistan that he came to love during his tour there and his pride in the American people. He closed with a story about the death of one of his Soldiers during the war. When he received a letter from the Soldier’s parents, he feared it would be filled with anger and bitterness. Instead, the parents wanted to provide gifts for the Afghan children, to continue the good work for which their son had given his life. That, he said, was the character of the American people that he proudly served.
One of the curses of being a Myers-Briggs “N” is that I see patterns where none may have been intended. As I listened to the general speak, I saw a rather important pattern evolve in his remarks: an ethical movement from “me” to “we” to “all.”
Many Soldiers enter the Army because it’s an adventure, a steady paycheck with medical benefits, the path to an education, the road out of a bad situation and so forth. People don’t lay their lives on the line, however, for a scholarship. One can only “embrace the suck” for something larger than oneself. For most Soldiers, that’s their buddies and their unit. The Army lives and dies by esprit de corps and unit cohesion. Ultimately, however, the Soldier’s aspirations grow beyond the Army itself. Especially when Soldiers see the suffering of the world firsthand, they want their sacrifices to count for something – to make a difference for the greater good.
There is a bond that unites all service members of every generation – a bond of selfless service and hope for the world. On this Veterans Day, I am grateful for all who have worn the nation’s uniform. I am proud to number myself among them.