Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Met Them - A Guest Post by Colin E. Kimball

I Met Them

The trip began with a wake up at 0300. A few last minute details of signing a condolence card, pressing a shirt, making a pot of coffee and gathering my wife and son for a wheels up departure at 0500. My Brother-in-Law arrived at the house on time and we departed in the midst of a soaking rain shower the likes of which we had not seen in several months of drought that has encumbered the State of Texas. To me it was if the Lord above was sharing his tears with us for the loss of so many brave young men and in my heart I know that to be true.

Along the route from Dallas to Shreveport, we encountered many Harley riders, replete with either American Legion, VFW or Patriot Guard emblems on display. We knew where they were headed. Like us, they also rose early in the O dark thirty hours to honor one of so many who fell from the sky in a far away land. We arrived at the home of the Gold Star Father still in my shorts and tee shirt, to extend our family condolences and present him with a special memento that could be used to honor his son in the hours ahead and hopefully one day restore his pride that is currently masked by the pain of his loss. A young Master Chief Petty Officer, whose distinct shoulder rank insignias did not fit his boyish appearance opened the door to greet us. I was taken aback by his youthful appearance that masked any pretence of an experienced elite warrior. Initially, I thought he was a Junior ROTC Cadet whose hair was a little past the Navy Grooming Standards, but when I shook his hand, I knew what he did for a living. Immediately after we arrived, a contingent of Navy Officers drove up in a mini-van as I stood by the Master Chief who held the door and granted all access. Due to the assemblage of honored guests who had travelled from far away places, my wife and I quickly concluded our greetings and departed so that men of honor could express their sympathy to a Gold Star Father and a sole surviving sibling.

After changing into a suit and tie, we travelled over to the Church to pay our respects to Chief Petty Officer Robert Reeves. The roads around the church were blocked by Police who came from as far as Baton Rouge. Additionally, hundreds of motorcycles lined the street as a secondary blockade for the Police. Patriots every one of them, came to protect the family from seeing vile protesters that sometimes show up, and to also pay their personal respects to a fallen warrior. The protesters never showed their face. Thank the Lord and the many patriots assembled for that! Large American Flags were posted on every fence post around the church, and small flags, planted the night before, lined the street from the church to the street of the Gold Star Father. Scores of Patriots stood at attention holding flags and lined the walkway from the parking lot and on both sides of the steps that lead to the Cathedral like church up on the top of the hill.

In the past, I have attended weddings and funerals in this prominent church that on this day was being used to honor and remember a very courageous Man and a local fallen son. Inside the church, it was standing room only. To say that the assemblage of sailors was impressive is an understatement, and I will leave it at that. Hollywood could not have scripted such a scene. One Officer delivered the first eulogy. The rank and collection of medals on his uniform were of the type rarely seen and they denoted that this was a man of considerable responsibility, travels and valor. But more than that, the intellect that he conveyed in a few words, far exceeded anything I have ever seen from a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. The grace and compassion he exhibited to the grieving family was so touching that if I had not seen him do it, I would have thought he was a Chaplain and not a leader of elite warriors. This valiant Officer reminded us all of the following “There is no Happiness without Freedom, and there is no Freedom without Courage” a quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Thucydides.

When the ceremony concluded, along with my wife, son, and Brother-in-Law we walked to the reception area to meet the men who knew Rob well. There is something about the subtle yet profound confidence that each of these men display by way they greet others, shake your hand, and hold themselves. They are Gentlemen in the truest sense of the word. Simply put, they do not call attention to themselves or wear their profession on their sleeve for the world to see, unless you see them in uniform. If you met one on the street you would never know what they do, but when you see them in a group, the subtle clues of their understated confidence become obvious. They have nothing to prove to anyone because they have already proven it to themselves. We should all take a lesson from these men and the level of commitment they have to us and each other.

I never knew Rob personally. His mother, God rest her soul, was a close friend of my Mother-in-Law. I did not know until we began our long journey that my Brother-in-Law knew Rob, and he took him on his first plane ride in his Cessna when Rob was 13. When telling this story to several of Robs team mates, more than one stated, “so you’re the one.” Obviously, there is a story here in the life of a man of many untold stories. A special man, who is one of many special men, that are greatly missed by many people. Rob went on to earn to his pilot’s license in his spare time which I am sure was a great skill for a man of his profession to have. My Brother-in-Law learned a powerful lesson on how the little things we do can sometimes impact another person’s life in meaningful ways.

I will never forget Rob and Jonas, his close friend from childhood, who with Rob and more than a score of other valiant warriors fell from the Sky in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Nor will I forget the many valiant men I met on that day, especially the young Master Chief who greeted me at the door and schooled me on the intricacies’ of Military Heraldry as practiced by the United States Navy. Chief if you read this, I am grateful for what you do and for your help with my freshman sized questions on Navy protocol. I will endeavor to use the information you shared to honor your fellow sailors in the most meaningful way I can. Master Chief, I purposefully never asked your name, not to be rude, but out of respect for what you do. Please know that I pray that your endeavors are greeted with victorious results. I am always and forever grateful for the work that you, your team mates, and all the men and women who wear the uniforms of the United States do for us.

There is a Navy recruiting poster that featured a prominent portrayal of Rob when he was in the challenging training it takes to earn the privilege of wearing the Trident of Navy Special Operations. The title of the Poster is “Courage.” Thucydides wrote about men like Chief Petty Officer Robert Reeves and Lieutenant Commander Jonas Kelsall and I take great comfort knowing that the courage Rob and Jonas demonstrated enriched their life with happiness and gave freedom to all of us. There were many other courageous folks present, including patriots outside and Robs “coworkers.” I was fortunate to have met them.

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