I originally published this article on my blog on May 27, 2018. I am re-sharing it today because it continues to capture my feelings about honoring the fallen this Memorial Day.
Every year, Americans do a great job paying homage to our fallen on Memorial Day. By and large, this day transcends political affiliation, religion, race, socio-economic background, and all the other labels we use to divide ourselves. A Memorial Day never goes by that I don’t receive messages from friends and family thanking me for my service. It doesn’t matter that I’m alive and well, it is symbolic of people’s desire to remember and pay respect to those that served and put their lives on the line, even if they came out on the other side. While it is a day I ensure to reflect on, and always shed a tear remembering, it is also a day that makes me proud to be an American and to have served.
I have experienced combat in many forms as a Navy SEAL and FBI Special Agent. Recently, someone asked me about the fear I experienced during combat operations. My answer came quickly. I replied that I don’t really recall having much fear during these operations. This is true, but not because I’m some marvel of bravery. I’m not. As I explained, it was because of the detailed planning and constant preparation of necessary skills that preceded combat. There was always a good plan and diligent preparation that I fell back on during operations that seemed to mute any fear that could creep up.
But this question and my response triggered me to reflect on fear. I don’t know if other people have my perspective on fear during combat, and it doesn’t matter because we all respond to things differently. But I really wanted to think about where my fear was, because I knew it was somewhere. I thought long and hard about everything I had done, how I acted, and how I felt. It dawned on me. My fear came early, before the planning and the actual mission itself. It came on the initial tasking. Whether it was tasking from a “higher authority” or from an idea I generated myself, I recalled initial thoughts of fear.
“Wow, this sounds a little dangerous”
“Things could get bad here”
“I have a family I would like to stay around for.”
Then it was time to get to work and plan. This is where I personally bid farewell to the fear.
I believe my reflections on fear explain why I get so emotional on Memorial Day. It reminds me that our fallen felt fear…but they went anyway. They had thoughts about the consequences of going…but they went anyway. They realized the consequences of going could alter, and end, their lives…but they went anyway. They realized recognition and praise for what they were about to do would go largely unrealized…but they went anyway.
They went anyway.
This is why Memorial Day is what it is. This is why it transcends our daily divisions as a country. Because no matter what else we believe, we know this day represents a quality that exists in human beings that is so rare and worthy of true wonderment. It is not enough to marvel how our fallen selflessly gave their lives for a cause greater than themselves. We must also marvel at the fact that despite the known consequences and fear they likely came face to face with, they went anyway.
Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coaching, keynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.
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