On this Memorial Day 2020, I wanted to take a moment to recognize a few of the brave individuals I had the honor to serve with and paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. I have been in uniform since 1993 when I first arrived at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado Springs, and since then I have lost many friends, colleagues, and classmates. On this solemn day as the heat of summer picks up and we begin to emerge from the solitude of the last couple of months, I wanted to take a brief moment to remember six of the brave souls I have served with who gave their lives for their country, and talk a little about how I honored them today, with the best way I know: by a story, a path, and a pilsner.
First let me describe these heroes:
Major General (MG) Harold Greene: killed in action August 5, 2014, Afghanistan; we worked together at the Pentagon for two years. While working at the Pentagon, I protected highly sensitive projects for MG Greene. He’s the only General Officer I have ever worked with who told his secretary, “If this man ever needs to see me, my door is always open, and let him in immediately.”
Captain Christopher J. Sullivan: killed in action January 18, 2005, Iraq; we served together from 1999-2000 in Germany and Kosovo. Chris and I supported Bravo Company, 2-2 Infantry, “Bushmasters” in Germany during the summer of 1999, and then when we deployed in Kosovo at the end of the year supported A/82nd Engineers. Chris and I would find ourselves together watching Serbian forces launch a raid into a 5km buffer zone against Albanian insurgents on the night of 3-4 March 2000 near Dobrosin, Yugoslavia.
Staff Sergeant Jason Benford: killed in action September 27, 2005, Iraq: we served together from 1999-2000 in Germany and Kosovo. SSG Benford served as the gunner for our company XO in B/2-2 Infantry, 1LT now COL Pat Hughes. In the fall of 1999, the three of us ran our Company’s Command Post in Hohenfels, Germany during our mission rehearsal exercise. Later we all worked together in Kosovo.
Sergeant First Class Casey Howe: killed in action September 26, 2005, Iraq. We served together from 2000-2001 in Kosovo and Germany. SFC Howe was my fire direction NCO when I was first assigned to A/1-6 Field Artillery. He was one of the great NCOs: he smoked like a champ, drank coffee all day, and could still crush everyone on the 2 mile run. He always had a smile on his face.
Major Rudolfo Rodriguez: killed in action September 20, 2008, Pakistan. We were classmates at the Air Force Academy & Academy Prep School, 1993-1998. His middle name was “Ivan” and that’s what I remember him by. We were at the Prep School together first, and later the Academy. I remember Ivan as being very cerebral, but always quick with a smile.
Captain John Boria: died September 5, 2004, Qatar: we were classmates at the Air Force Academy & Academy Prep School, 1993-1998. John was another “preppie” with me who was then part of the Cadet Squadron 26 “Mighty Barons” cohort from 1994-1996. We survived together our 4th Class, Smack/Doolie year together, one of the most challenging of our lives. I still have the letter his mother wrote me after I wrote her following his death in 2004.
Let their memories and all who have given their lives to protect freedom in America and around the world not be forgotten.
So it was on this day of remembrance, it only seemed natural to go for a family run. Into the strollers the girls went, and my wife and I braved the heat of 9am to put the miles in. Originally our timeline was 7:01 am, but well, it didn’t happen. My heart was set at three miles, so nearly kicking and screaming I joined her for five steamy miles around base pushing the strollers. The girls, however, ate it up– not making so much as a peep as we trotted around base. (I was seriously amazed at this! Like this was a first! No tears! Not a single peep out of them!) All around us magnolia trees blossomed and the scent of their blooms descended upon us. It smelled as if mimosas enveloped us. It was almost getting drunk on their fragrance as we ran. We even managed to pick one blossom and run home with it, the scent heavy on our minds.
Once at home this Memorial Day things fell into place. We made a large brunch of fresh pancakes and bacon, washed down by mimosas. Later the girls played in a neighbors’ pool while we chatted with these neighbors about life while sipping beers on what became a rather warm and steamy day. Finally, for dinner I grilled some salmon on cedar planks, topping it off with roasted asparagus and sweet potato fries. I paired this delicious meal with a blonde: Crosstown Brewing’s Siren Blonde Ale, a crisp light ale perfect for the heat of a late spring day. And heat there was: by the time I cooked dinner the temps hovered at 88°F/31°C combined with hefty humidity which put the heat index well into the 90s.
In all it was a good day. I’m grateful for days like these. I spent too many Memorial Days in places where we could not have barbecues or beer or much of anything. I always knew should I return, I would enjoy holidays like these and make them matter. I know my fallen comrades would want the same.