This article originally appeared on Confessions of An Idiot written by Andy Stumpf and was republished with permission.
In a country that most would struggle to find on a map, in a compound that few possess the courage to enter, men from my previous life took the fight to our enemy.
In that compound, they found men that pray five times a day for your destruction. Those men don’t know me, they don’t know you, and they don’t know America. They don’t understand our compassion, our freedoms, and our tolerance. I know it may seem as if those things are currently missing, but they remain, and I know they will return. Our capacity for them is boundless, and is only dwarfed by their hatred for you. They don’t care about your religious beliefs; they don’t care about your political opinions. They don’t care if you sit on the left or the right, liberal or conservative, pacifist or a warrior. They don’t care how much you believe in diversity, equality, or freedom of speech.
I’m sorry that you have never smelled the breath of a man who wants to kill you. I am sorry that you have never felt the alarm bells ringing in your body, the combination of fear and adrenaline, as you move towards the fight, instead of running from it. I am sorry you have never heard someone cry out for help, or cried out for help yourself, relying on the courage of others to bring you home. I am sorry you have never tasted the salt from your own tears, as you stand at a flag draped coffins, burying men you were humbled to call your friends. I don’t wish those experiences on you, but I wish you had them. It would change the way you act, it would change the way you value, it would change the way you appreciate. You become quick to open your eyes, and slow to open your mouth.
Most will never understand the sacrifice required to keep men from that compound away from our doorstep, but it would not hurt you to try. It would not hurt you to take a moment to respect the sacrifices that others make on your behalf, whether they share your opinions or not. It would not hurt you to take a moment to think of the relentless drain on family, friends, and loved ones that are left behind. Ideas are not protected by words. Paper may outline the foundation and principles of this nation, but it is blood that protects it.
In that compound, a man you have never met gave everything he had, so that YOU, have the freedom to think, speak, and act however you choose. He went there for all of us, whether you loved him, or hated what he stood for. He went there to preserve the opportunity and privilege to believe, to be, and to become what we want. This country, every single person living inside of its borders and under the banner of its flag, owe that man. We owe that man everything. We owe him the respect that his sacrifice deserves.
Saying thank you is not enough.
We send our best, and lose them, in the fight against the worst this world has to offer. If you want to respect and honor their sacrifice, it needs to be more than words. You have to live it.
Take a minute and look around. Soak it in, all of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. You have the choice, every day, as to which category you want to be in, and which direction you want to move. You have that choice, because the best among us, the best we have ever had to offer, fought, bled, and died for it.
Don’t ever forget it.