Yesterday we ran the Reflection Run here in our home state of Washington. We were proud to be a part of this event and represent our own great work we're doing for the Veteran community. In the end it raised over $50k to honor the brave men and women who have or are currently serving in our Armed Forces and remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our freedom.
When I came into the office today I had the full intention of creating a social media post on our participation. As I began to type it out though I found myself "reflecting", for lack of a better term, on the entire experience. I haven't been able to shake several key things that noticeably stood out to me. I have never run a 5k race before that is not forced on me by Uncle Sam and I have had a host of health issues over the last few years. This was a big deal to me both physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As I began this race with my family and my friends on Team Valhalla Tea I was telling my 13 year old daughter to slow down and pace herself. "We still have a long way to go honey.", I said, while mentally giving myself my own pep talk. Internally I was saying, "Pace yourself Chris, don't overdo it. You haven't done anything like this since your heart issues surfaced 2 years ago."
The first quarter mile lined both ways on the course were photos of those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice spaced probably 2 or 3 feet apart. Just doing the math that is between 440 to 660 faces, names, men, and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Vancouver, where we are from, is not what most would consider a large city so that is quite a lot of names for our part of the country.
I found my mind drifting from my own mental pep talk to focusing on these photos as I ran. Every face I saw was so familiar even though I personally did not know these men and women. Half of the photos were those "great" ones we all get in Basic Training and the thought that, "wow, if that had been me, I hope they wouldn't use my photo from Basic Training". Then the real perspective and gravity of just how many photos lined this path hit me. Every step was another lost, every breathe was a new face.
As I focused more on these photos, I noticed most of them had blue borders around the photos. What was the difference I thought briefly before I saw underneath each of these were the words, "Lost to PTSD" That is when it hit me like someone had just punched me in the gut. "No way were the majority of these to suicide." I thought. The real scope of this issue was laid out now in these faces as I ran past. The words "22 A Day" were not just words anymore but tangible, real people, staring at me as I ran.
Most were younger, within my generation. These men and women like me, who signed on the dotted line an unknown check. The Global War on Terror has had a lasting impact on us for the last 20 years. Everyone who participated did so in so many different forms or fashion. It becomes difficult to put people into categories that may be directly associated with what inevitably leads a human being to taking their own life.
If you have been around the military long enough, I imagine you have personally experienced this tragedy like I have. It hurts for those of us left to pick up the pieces, but it is all you can do; we cannot change the past. You go through the grieving process and for everyone that looks different and that is okay. But you never really lose those people. It is like they are always there in your mind and surface at the most seemingly random times. The importance of these relationships however we build in our tribe really transcend death.
Taking all my own personal experiences and seeing it laid out in hundreds of faces looking at me as I run on this path was a humbling and solemn journey. I do not know why some of us never really come home from our experiences and maybe none of us ever do but it is very clear that even with the withdraw now from Afghanistan, the war still rages on in millions of Veterans all over the country.
One thing you never realize when you are young and taking the oath of enlistment is for the rest of your life you now have the duty to remember. I am not talking about why or how we should be in any conflicts. Perhaps I am a little jaded on this but in my opinion most Americans live their lives just fine without needing to know why or how of anything associated with the U.S. Military. Only during Memorial Day or Veterans Day do we get that national attention.
For us though, us being the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, families, wives, husbands, children, and anyone directly associated with the military, we have the duty to remember.
So for this first blog post at Valhalla Tea I want to shine light on this duty and all of the other organizations out there making a difference every day to fight this epidemic we've found ourselves in. We remember the lost. We remember the wars have not stopped. We remember you.
- The Valhalla Co Team