General and Mrs. Coglianese, Col. And Mrs. Frietz, Lt. Col. and Mrs. Penrod, Sgt. Maj. Weeks, distinguished guests, family, friends and Marines. Thank you for honoring me and my family today. I stand before you humbled and flattered.
First, it is only right to thank all of those who have stood by me through all these years. My wife, my rock and my memory, Gina. Without whom I would be completely lost. It is you who gave me purpose to become the man you see. I love you. My sons Joseph and Joshua. Thank you both for being understanding and good boys. I hope I haven’t screwed you up too bad. I know you didn’t choose this life but you endured, and been troopers through it all and I love you for it. This is the last move I swear.
To all of my close friends, Chris and BJ Hickey, Johnny Vernazza, Chris Hamilton, Paul Hurban, Steven Sheals, Dan and Dawn Francis, Bob and Jane Champe, Carissa Tourtelot, Major James Shelstad, LtCol and Mrs. Martinko and everyone else but I have forgotten to mention. Thank you for making me a better man by showing me friendship and compassion. I am simply better just for knowing you.
Enough of that bleeding heart garbage.
When I first thought about what I would say on this day, I drew a complete blank. Not only because my memory has taken a sabbatical on me but because how do I sum it all up in five minutes? Most of my lessons were hard learned and I haven’t the words. Everyone pictures the way things will turn out and they’re always gilded and perfect. Those are hard things to obtain in one’s life and are rare occurrences, but sometimes it all falls into place. Allow me to explain.
I started my career at 17, the same age as my oldest son. I was young, naïve and full of crap. Aren’t we all? In the beginning, I was taught by the generation before me, like all generations. It was my father’s generation, the Vietnam veterans. It was all I could do to keep up and learn as quickly as possible. They were completely devoted to the task delegated to them.
Early on for me it was all about learning how to do things. Not really understanding the purpose behind the task. As I progressed and mastered the skills required of me, I began to think about what it all meant. Why were they making me clean my rifle for ten hours? Why do we do all of the boring things that we do, that make the days so long and exhausting? The purpose eluded me for about a decade.
Then it happened and we were at war. Suddenly, things got real. Fast. It was during this time that I discovered the reason for which I had been preparing all those years. It was not to be a badass or a hero. It was not to get medals and tributes. It was to keep a promise. It was to ensure that life goes on. Our lives and the way we live it.
This may not be a reality for everyone who journeys down the path of the warrior. For some it may be to provide for one’s family or just simply for the experience of it all, whatever that means. Motives vary as much as people do but when we are engaged with our common foe, it all merges into one mutual purpose. To stay alive. Everything falls away and nothing else matters.
Not one task is more important than the other. Not one life is more important than the other. No one is greater or less than the other. All of our petty differences fade away. We are one.
It is unfortunate that the most important lessons in life are found staring at the probable end of it. Make no mistake; we are in the business of life. We ensure it for our people and each other. We hold ourselves accountable for it and we pay the tax for it. The tax being death which is an unfortunate dynamic all players must observe. Never take a life for granted because it is fragile, and can be extinguished in an instance. All it takes is a split second and everything is different. Everything.
I now know what those Vietnam vets were trying to teach me so long ago. That it is not, never was, and never will be about me or you. It’s about all of us and it’s about them, the protected and also those whom we protect them from. Because, it is we who are the keepers of the watch. Not only of our nation, but of each other and our way of life. Whatever your purpose, it is no less and no more important than any other. Take pride in what you do and own it.
We are all part of an enormous machine; a family. Keep it well maintained and ready. Be ever vigilant and steadfast. Respect one another. For when it all goes down, and it will, each other is all you will have.
Semper Fidelis, always faithful. Thank you for this great honor.