I believe that the ultimate sacrifice is to give one’s life for their country.
Most people take for granted the price Americans have paid to defend our freedoms. More than a million men and women have lost their lives combating tyranny throughout our short history, from the American Revolution to the Civil War, from the World Wars to the current Long War against transnational terrorism. It is easy to forget the sacrifices of these men and women when most people are worried about what is happening in their own lives at home.
As an Army officer, I have had the privilege of serving beside some of the best soldiers of this generation. On July 1, 2004, I lost one of our nation’s finest. His name was Sergeant Christopher Wagener. Chris was a typical young “kid”: outgoing, friendly, well-liked, and extremely hard working. That morning, Chris was a vehicle commander for a small convoy delivering food, water, and supplies to an outpost a few miles away from our base in Northern Iraq. On the way, his vehicle struck a land mine, killing him immediately and severely injuring the other two occupants.
As an officer, I’ve had to accept the fact that my job is risky. I’ve lost several friends and coworkers in the past because of accidents, but Sergeant Wagener’s death was different. Perhaps it was because he was so young, or that his death was caused by the enemy, or because as his commander I was personally responsible for his well-being. For the first time I was forced to consider the sacrifices we make to defend our country.
I wondered how I could handle this. There are rules for administratively processing the death of a soldier, but we receive no training on how to handle it emotionally or psychologically. What would I say to the other soldiers? What would I say to his parents?
I pondered these questions for a long time that night, feeling somewhat sorry for the situation I was in. I quickly realized that I was being very selfish. I was still alive, I was still capable of having an impact on the current operations, and I would be able to return home from Iraq when my tour was done. Chris would not. He gave his life in a faraway place that few have ever heard of so that other soldiers could continue doing their jobs. He gave his life in defense of our country.
Now, I’m on my fourth overseas deployment, serving in Afghanistan. To this day I still wear a bracelet with Sergeant Wagener’s name and the date of his death on it. It reminds me in times of stress, trouble, and tribulation that I still have an opportunity to make a difference. I continue to serve our country in hopes that my experience can protect the lives of our current and future soldiers.
The United States is still at war and our servicemen and women continue to put themselves in harm’s way. I hope our nation will never forget those who have made – or will make – the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms.
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