I believe that the greatest thing that any of us have to give is our service to others. Through our service we define and protect the institutions that compose our society, and only through our collective effort do we have something of value that extends beyond ourselves.
During and after college, I was mostly interested in being employed and seeking challenging and interesting experiences. Although some of these motivations surely played a part in my decision, two individuals inspired me to consider serving in our country’s military.
Until I met then Captain Mike. Mike graduated at the top of his West Point class and attended Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship before commanding a company in Bosnia. After growing up in an era when I thought joining the Army meant paying for college, it was an eye opener to meet someone who clearly could have done anything he wanted to and yet chose to serve.
Despite my father’s service as a Marine officer in Vietnam, I had never seriously considered service in the military. In my father, I had another example of someone who chose service—volunteering at the height of the war, in 1968, my father sought to lead Marines in combat at a time when many sought draft deferments and assignments out of harm’s way. My father used the GI Bill to get a PhD, and has spent his career creating and discussing the public policies that affect all of us every day.
I, too, joined the Marine Corps to lead Marines, served uneventfully and returned to school. In 2004 I joined a reserve combat engineer unit, notified of activation two days later. I could have stayed, but chose to deploy, getting to know my Marines during training and dispelling another misconception. These ‘weekend warriors’ whose skills I had been told to mistrust surprised me. My Staff Sergeants were a Tomahawk missile test engineer and a partner in a law firm. My platoon included policemen, firemen, college students, mechanics and shift managers, husbands and fathers. They, too, had other options, and chose both. Of the fifty of us who went to Iraq, four would not return. On New Year’s day of 2005, I was on patrol south of Haditha when an explosion knocked me on my back before I heard it, tearing my rifle and my right arm in half and fatally wounding LCpl Brian. Petty Officer Juan and others saved my life that day, and I consider myself fortunate to be here.
Like my father, my experience has provided further direction to my life. Realizing the state of upper extremity prosthetics, I have redirected my research toward improving it. Through my studies and a non-profit we’ve started, I’m now looking toward the service I can offer to people with and without disabilities in the larger global community, placing technology and “knowledge at the service of society.”
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