"Toward the one-hour mark of the speech, the president started speaking about military families. He said, 'Let me tell you about one of those families I've come to know.' At the mention of his name, Cory Remsburg seemed to sink in his seat a little. He looked over at the first lady and smiled.Television viewers saw a close-up of Remsburg as Obama detailed the dozens of surgeries the soldier has had over the years and his grueling hours of daily rehabilitation." -- Richard Ruelas in The Arizona Republic, Jan 29, 2014
"Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course." -- William Shakespeare
"Adversity has ever been considered the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself." -- Samuel Johnson
When Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg and his father, Craig, were directed to the first row in the gallery booth for the State of the Union address, they quickly realized that they were seated next to Dr. Jill Biden and Michelle Obama. It is estimated that over 33 million people saw this man the President cited as exemplary, not only for his heroism, but also for never giving up.
As reported by Richard Ruelas in The Arizona Republic, Remsburg said, "I don't think I deserve that much recognition." He said this Wednesday during an interview with 12 News and The Republic shortly after landing at Sky Harbor International Airport as he headed back to Phoenix. "I was just doing my job," he said.
Remsburg has received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He has been feted at Gilbert Town Hall, including a local group of motorcycle riders who welcomed him home when he was released from rehabilitation centers. This recognition reached wider, as the President presented Cory to us as a role model -- connecting this man's struggles to walk and talk again with the struggles of this nation.
Why did a not uncommon use of a personal illustration in a State of the Union address occasion a nearly two-minute standing ovation and launch a national conversation?
Part of the inspiration is that Rangers are a special breed -- most soldiers usually serve a location for 12 months, but Rangers rotate every three or four months with brief periods of respite. Remsburg was among many who served multiple tours of duty. The U.S Army Ranger Creed:
Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of the Rangers.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite Soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other Soldier.
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.
Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well-trained Soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger work. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.
Rangers lead the way!
Another reason introducing Cory Remsburg was so electrifying was that the President actually knew him. Remsburg met the President as one of the Rangers chosen to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day, re-enacting the paratrooper invasion at Normandy in World War II, describing the young soldier as "a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack." Only months later in Afghanistan, Cory was gravely injured when he encountered an explosive device as he walked through a field. Was it coincidence that the President came into Remsburg's room in 2010, while touring the Bethesda hospital? Cory and other wounded soldiers were being treated, and the President recognized the picture from France. The two met again in 2013 in Phoenix, during which time Cory surprised the President with the progress he'd made -- being able to walk. The invitation to come to Washington as part of the State of the Union was very personal.
Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv and co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, wrote a piece in response titled "The State of the Union's Most Despicable Moment." He said, "The most emotionally powerful moment in Barack Obama's State of the Union address was also its most morally dubious. The nation's commander in chief drew attention to a wounded warrior while eliding any responsibility for placing the young man in harm's way." Frankly, I have many reservations about our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But my question is why are we moved to arise and come together, despite those differences, when we encounter Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg?
Surely Cory's dedication and extent of sacrifice move us. We cringe to imagine how we would respond to such devastating and life-changing issues. How would we respond to a loved one needing the care Cory's family gives him -- perhaps wondering, who would give up part of their lives to care for us in such need?
The depth, breadth and length of the ovation intrigued me. I would agree with Nick Gillespie that "all Americans can appreciate Cory Remsburg's sacrifice -- but our soldiers shouldn't be used as political props." But what if the effort it took for Cory to stand with all those who stood up for him was an opportunity for everyone to put aside our differences and simply embrace the willingness of one among us to pursue a goal set out in service to others? What if, after all the disagreements and rancor, we yearn to stand together on some common ground and be united by something bigger than the specific issues, policies, decisions and outcomes?
In my seventh decade I am not naïve enough to think there is no danger to that assertion -- just following orders is not what I mean. Foregoing rigorous debates and the accountability of careful debriefing of outcomes is not what I mean. Rather, it is exactly the capacity to understand -- to stand under -- the fact that we will make mistakes and people will get hurt. It is ennobling to see one of us give our all to a mission, including the struggle that follows the consequences that come in the aftermath. We are strengthened in our capacity to overcome adversity and to encourage others when we stand up for that.