In naming military heroes of the past we think of names like Sgt. Alvin York, Maj. Audie Murphy or Capt. Benjamin Salomon. More currently, we may think of names like Col. Jack Jacobs, Sgt. Dakota Meyer or Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry.
What all these men have in common, besides being Medal of Honor recipients, is the fact they had the courage to move forward in a dangerous situation and do the best they could where others may have faltered. All of them were trained Soldier’s at the top of their game, willing to put their lives on the line for our nation and their fellow Soldiers.
We all know heroes come in many sizes and shapes. We also know there is no predicting who will be a hero. When you answer the question of who is a hero what you are really answering is how you define heroes. There are heroes who clearly sit above the pack such as the ones mentioned earlier. Yet there are silent, invisible heroes who do their jobs as best as they can who want no recognition. I believe anyone who chooses to place themselves in harm’s way to protect the freedom of others is a hero. Among the many I place in this category are our Initial Entry Training Soldiers.
These young men have come into an Army at war, and do so willingly, when 99 percent of their contemporaries choose not to. They could give you thousands of reasons why they shouldn’t be here, but rather than use those reasons not to join, they find reason to become part of the fight. I talked to one Soldier at 30th Adjutant General Battalion 48 hours after he arrived. I noticed him waiting in line because he was tearing up. I thought he was afraid, but he told me how his mother was fighting cancer and had a poor prognosis. His only wish was that he could be an Infantryman so his mother could see him graduate before she died.
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I had the honor to deliver a ‘good’ Red Cross message to a young Soldier the day before he shipped to training. I informed him that the night before his wife had given birth to a baby boy and that mother and son were doing fine. I told him this in front of his company at 30th AG Bn., and he received a loud ovation from the other Soldiers and congratulations from the Drill Sergeants. I asked why he left home knowing his wife was so close to delivery. He said duty called and rather than delay it, he wanted his son to come into the world having a father that was an American Soldier. For that, he and his wife were willing to make the sacrifice so many Army families make.
In my book there are other invisible heroes at Fort Benning. Not everyone who wants to become a Soldier can make it. Soldiering is not for everyone. There are varied reasons why a young man doesn’t finish Basic Training or One Station Unit Training here. The reasons range from injury sustained in training, old injuries that have not properly healed or an inability to meet the Army standard physically, mentally or emotionally. Being a Soldier is not a ‘give me’ but rather it is something that must be earned through hard work, sweat, toil and dedication. The spirit, mind and body must all be willing to work together to achieve it.
We regretfully send those young men who have not met our standards home. But they do not go home the same as they came. During time they are here they learn discipline, Army values and the importance of the little freedoms they have taken for granted. They learn the importance of teamwork to accomplish a common goal. They learn selfless service is not something that ends when you take off the uniform, but rather something you take with you your entire life.
These Soldiers could go home feeling ashamed they have not succeeded, but that is where the Retention and Holding Unit of the 30th AG Bn., comes in. The unit works hard to jump-start the Soldiers lives by helping plan the next step in the journey. The unit works hard to implant a resiliency in these young men so when they go home they go with a pride and a confidence of having tried for the best. The staff and cadre at RHU make a point of letting these Soldiers know that in their eyes they are heroes because they wanted to join the fight.
Heroes come in many shapes, sizes and jobs. They range from Medal of Honor recipients, to our IET Soldiers, to our dedicated staff and cadre, to the young men who have tried to be Soldiers but have gone home to do other great things for our nation. We should be proud of all of them because all of them came to serve. All have come to place themselves in harm’s way to defend freedom. In my book, all of them are true American heroes.