(Members of Operation Proper Exit standing before the Special Operations Memorial)
The sun crested over the nearby mountain range while I read the names on the Special Operations Memorial at Bagram Airfield. A member of my company, SFC Wyatt Goldsmith (KIA 15JUL11), had been added to the rolls just a few weeks prior. As I read the last few names, I wondered if my name would appear on the memorial by the end of my deployment (I had 5 months left). About a month later, I almost joined these men after being shot in the stomach.
Nearly six years to the day later, I was back in front of the Special Operations Memorial with Operation Proper Exit. The location had changed and the names had almost doubled. Just like I had done six years prior, I meticulously read each name and was reminded of how many of these men I personally knew. While I made my way down the list I thought back to a speech a LTC gave to my group after we found out we had passed Special Forces Selection and Assessment.
“Gentlemen, congratulations on being selected to continue training, but the true test lies ahead for those of you that make it through the Special Forces Qualification Course. In this moment, it is hard for a lot of you men to completely understand what the Regiment and this country is going to ask of you. We are going to ask you to spend the majority of your time away from your families and deploy to the most dangerous places in the world. Some of the men in this room will lose their arms, legs and health. (after a long pause) Some of the men in this room are going to lose their lives. The country and regiment are going to ask a lot of you.”
In the ten years that had elapsed since he gave this speech, I went on multiple deployments, lost friends to combat and suicide, saw marriages crumble, witnessed lives ruined by addiction and experienced the trials and tribulations of being wounded in combat. He was right, at the time I was so excited to be selected for Special Forces Training, I could not fully comprehend his words. Ten years later, standing before 440 names etched in stone, I knew exactly what he meant, the country and regiment had asked a lot of us.
These men had lost their lives, parents had lost their sons, children lost their fathers, wives lost their husbands, siblings lost their brothers and teammates lost their friends. While I looked at the monument for likely my last time, I thought to myself, “This is the meaning of sacrifice.”