An Open Chair at the Table

In honor of Memorial Day, I want to share about a meeting I had last week with members of our Armed Forces that reminded me of the tremendous sacrifice quietly offered for our freedoms - and a seldom-recognized group that most aptly models this sacrifice.
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2016-05-27-1464376840-6101237-bigstockamericanmilitarycouplehuggi111312893.jpgIn honor of Memorial Day, I want to share about a meeting I had last week with members of our Armed Forces that reminded me of the tremendous sacrifice quietly offered for our freedoms - and a seldom-recognized group that most aptly models this sacrifice.

For the United States military, the tip of the spear responsible for the ultimate success and safety of the entire armed forces is Joint Special Operations Command. The JSOC consists of the most elite Special Forces from every branch of the military. It is charged with carrying out the most dangerous, classified and sensitive missions.

Last Tuesday, in the Joint Special Operations Command compound, I had the immense honor of speaking to this group.

After sharing my message to the Command in the hangar where forward operations are staged, the commanding officer dismissed the audience. Before they raced back to work I was fortunate to meet many of these remarkable leaders.

I met with the analysts striving to win the war for hearts and minds. They review reams of data, make sense of it, and share it so that the entire team is armed with the best information possible.

There were contractors who served for more than 20 years in active duty and continue to serve today in various roles from security to cooks to janitors to translators.

There was a group of chaplains, men and women who support the emotional and spiritual health of the soldiers continuously in great peril.

Several support team members who pack parachutes, fuel equipment and ensure logistical success were there.

I also had the honor of meeting, shaking hands and hugging the 'Operators.' These are the Special Force team members so often glorified in books and movies. These guys heroically accept the most dangerous, classified and crucial work...and accept those risks quietly with no desire for recognition.

And yet, the most emotional conversations weren't with those with the highest security clearances or those who had participated in the most extraordinary raids.

The most emotional conversations were with the spouses of the men currently 'forward.'

These are the unnamed and rarely celebrated spouses who don't wear uniforms, don't get medals, and don't march in parades. These are the spouses who fall deeply in love, marry their sweethearts, start families, and eventually realize that they married someone who is frequently gone, always in danger, and never able to discuss it.

These are the women who pick the kids up from school and try to explain why dad's not coming home again today. These are the women who do the cooking, laundry, shopping, dinner, dishes, homework, bedtime by themselves, assuring their little ones that dad will be home soon, and then frequently falling asleep at night wondering if it's just a lie.

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die. Last Tuesday I saw an entire Command that lived this truth. Perhaps surprisingly, though, no group embodied it more perfectly so than the remarkable spouses.

Today, many of us will race off to barbecues. We'll enjoy a day off work. We'll enjoy family and friends and sun and fun.

Yes, there will be a little media coverage on our soldiers. There will be old videos of wars past. There will be live shots of parades and a few streaming videos of forward soldiers sending love to their families at home.

But on this day, let us pause and remember why we really have this day off of work. Let's give thanks for our incredible opportunities and freedoms. Let's remember the sacrifice that provided these amazing liberties. And let's be mindful of the sacrifice still being made, not just by the soldiers, but also by the thousands of spouses racing after children, balancing checkbooks, and leading households while their spouse is oversees continuing to serve our country.

Memorial Day reminds us that the innumerable blessings in our lives are not free. It reminds us that a steep price was paid, and continues to be paid, for what can be so easy to take for granted.

So let's keep in our thoughts and prayers the thousands of families that celebrate this holiday with an open chair at their table.

On this day, let's choose to Live Inspired.

John O'Leary

Do you have an open chair at your table today? In the comments, please share about one person in your life who is serving or has served. I can't wait to celebrate their service with you in honor of Memorial Day!

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