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  Volume No. 14 Issue No. 7 July 2017  

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  Memorial Day: honoring their sacrifice
  By Mark Stoller

   Mark Stoller is a nine-year resident of Colorado. He and his wife, Andra, both U.S. Air Force veterans, moved to Falcon in 2007 and are now raising their three teenage daughters in Latigo. They enjoy their home on the prairie with plenty of room for their six adopted dogs, bagpipes & Celtic Festivals and beekeeping. Mark enjoys the privilege of his wife and daughters being his muse for topics, people to meet and places to investigate.
   

   For generations, countless Americans have taken an oath prior to their military service: “… that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely … .” We volunteered to protect our Constitution; deployed to take the fight to the enemy; and fought in foreign lands to protect a way of life. As Korean War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Howard Osterkamp, said, “All gave some; some gave all.” More than a three-day weekend, barbecues and the unofficial start of summer vacation, the intent of Memorial Day is to honor America’s fallen service men and women.
   
   John “Jocko” Willink, a retired Navy SEAL, describes combat as, “War is a nightmare. It is indifferent, and devastating, and it is evil. War teaches you about sorrow, loss, and pain. It teaches you about the preciousness and fragility of human life.” As an intelligence officer, I have deployed for many combat operations. During my second tour of duty in Iraq, I worked on a Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force. Many times, after our forces raided bomb-making houses, we would recover videos the insurgents made of blowing up American combat vehicles with roadside bombs. I witnessed American troops killed by multiple bombs destroying their vehicles. I have looked through those demolished vehicles, noting the remnants of what used to be fellow soldiers whose lives were suddenly terminated.
   
   Those men and women were taken without the chance to say goodbye or I love you to their families thousands of miles away. These were truly heart-wrenching events. As a lasting reminder, my transport flights out of Iraq included the familiar silver coffins of deceased Americans beginning the repatriation trip home to their devastated family.
   
   Unfortunately, Fort Carson is host to numerous soldier memorials every year. The ceremony is an opportunity for the fallen soldier’s unit to recognize the loss of one of their own. My wife’s band, the Pikes Peak Highlanders Bagpipe and Drum band, provides a piper for almost every memorial service. Since 2011, the Highlanders have played for 116 memorials, without charge, as a service to the military community. After the eulogies are said, the piper plays “Amazing Grace” toward the soldier’s cross (boots, rifle, helmet and dog tags), past the soldier’s family and past a photograph of the fallen soldier. With a marked time turn, the piper plays the tune “Going Home” down the center aisle and exits the chapel. The trailing sound of pipes blends with the unit’s last roll call, followed by the 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps. Andra has played her bagpipes at more than 30 Fort Carson memorials. She feels honored to be able to escort/pipe the soldier home, as she plays “Going Home” out of the chapel.
   
   The families of military members, killed in combat, are known as Gold Star Families. Often, they display a decal on their vehicle depicting a red rectangle with a gold star in the middle. They are the ones living in the shadow of sorrow after the untimely death of their loved one. You see, this sacrifice is shared by the entire family left behind. Many children have grown up without their parent, and families have endured missed holidays, birthdays and milestones meant to be shared.
   
   As we approach Memorial Day, if you’re thankful for the freedoms you enjoy, I suggest flying an American flag as a symbol of gratitude. To quote Joseph Campbell, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” The next time you notice a member of our military in uniform, tell them you appreciate their service. If you see them with their family, thank them all for their service and sacrifice.
  
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