We ask a lot of our men and women in uniform. We ask them to put others before themselves. We ask for long, grueling hours. We ask for time away from family and loved ones. We send them off to dangerous war zones to help create a safer, more secure world.
And incredibly, people volunteer for this. They volunteer to make huge sacrifices and put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others.
As we celebrate this Memorial Day nearing the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, maybe our nation has become too accustomed to the remarkable. Perhaps we as a people are used to seeing our service members continue to do the extraordinary.
But for those of us who have lived it in a very personal way, the sacrifice and devotion never seem commonplace.
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In 2016, we have seen tragedy and felt heartbreak.
On Jan. 5, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McClintock was killed in action during a deployment with A Company 1/19th Special Forces Group in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Matt was a Special Forces engineer with multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was fatally wounded while saving the life of an injured teammate, earning the Silver Star for his actions. He was also a husband, son, father, friend and patriot.
In the weeks after Matt’s death, I had the chance to talk with his friends, family and loved ones personally. He was one of our best, a Green Beret soldier who liked “Star Wars” movies and heavy metal music, and loved his wife Alex and son Declan. His professionalism was matched only by his sense of humor and ability to make people laugh in stressful situations.
Just a few weeks ago, we learned of the death of Lt. David Bauders, a young officer in our organization, who also served in the Washington State Patrol. He was a platoon leader for the 176th Engineer Company serving in Iraq. Described as well-liked and highly respected by those who knew him, David will be remembered as a selfless soldier and leader, willing to put others before himself. He also was an intelligent young man who loved the outdoors and being active.
As a career soldier, I have had to say goodbye to many of our sons, daughters and brothers. The grief leaves me with more questions than answers, both pain and pride, and more tears than anything else.
Even so, I am captivated by the certainty that our nation would be lost without people like Matt, David and the more than 6,700 service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice since Sept. 11, 2001.
My gratitude for them – and all of those who came before, and all who will come after ‑ is the most powerful emotion of all.
Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty is commander of the Washington National Guard. The former Army pilot and middle school teacher is a resident of Federal Way.