Memorial Day ex-Green Beret, CEO of Black Rifle Coffee on the debt we owe to those who gave their lives for us

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America is a nation at war.

Next year will mark 20 years since the September 11 attacks on the United States and the start of the military operations that followed, and – still – Americans are fighting and dying in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

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A lot has changed in these almost 20 years. We chose new leadersfound new heroes and overcame new challenges at home and abroad.

What we have lost has often been measured by the number of fresh white markers in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery – the final resting place of many who died in military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

FILE — U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Ellis with the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), grabs a flag to place on a headstone for ‘Flags In,’ at Arlington National Cemetery, May 25, 2017, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/ Alex Brandon)

It can be measured more completely by markers and memorials in cities and towns across America, including those that signify losses incurred in preparation for war and the result of the mental and physical impacts of war.

For those of us who have had the privilege of serving alongside the brave few who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of this country, Memorial Day holds special significance.

It is not a “party” in the traditional sense. It is a day of honor and commemoration for our brothers and sisters who have gone before us.

What does it mean to live a worthwhile life? Most of us recognize that we owe a debt to those who willingly gave their lives to serve us, but how can we begin to pay that debt?

Meanwhile, as the unofficial kickoff to summer, Memorial Day has become synonymous in wider American culture with beach trips and sandcastles, backyard barbecues and sales. summer on everything from kitchen appliances to patio furniture.

A quick Google search, for example, will yield dozens of results for “the best Memorial Day deals” and “where you should shop this Memorial Day.”

Yet America is a nation at war.

When we forget that we are at war, we reject the costs of war. We forget that servicemen and women continue to fight and die for the freedoms we enjoy. We forget that we are indebted to their sacrifice.

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This doesn’t mean – of course – that we should embrace guilt or live in perpetual sadness.

As General George S. Patton said, “It is senseless and wrong to mourn the men who have died. On the contrary, we should thank God that such men lived.

For many of us, Memorial Day is about filling the impossible void left by these men and women. We decide to live a life with purpose, to be the best versions of ourselves – to be the best sons or daughters, fathers or mothers, brothers or sisters, friends, citizens and human beings that we can be.

As my friend former Green Beret Tim Kennedy said, we strive to live a “worth it” life. What does it mean to live a worthwhile life? Most of us recognize that we owe a debt to those who willingly gave their lives to serve us, but how can we begin to pay that debt?

It starts with gratitude.

Evan Hafer, former Green Beret, CEO of Black Rifle Coffee Company

Memorial Day didn’t become a holiday until 1971, but the tradition of setting aside a time to honor the dead began in the years following the Civil War, when communities across the United States, still struggling healing, spent a day decorating headstones with flowers and flags. .

It is a mark of resilience and courage that even in this nation’s worst times, after its bloodiest conflicts, we have been grateful.

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This gratitude is the source of our strength – our commitment to responsibly exercising our own freedoms, serving others, and passing those values ​​on to our children and their children.

Among the fallen we have an example of absolute selflessness – of what it means to put others first in no uncertain terms. They set the standard for what it means to live with purpose. For some of us, following this example means winning and wearing a service uniform.

For others, it means something else entirely. Every day and every moment, we are at a point of decision.

We have to decide if we are going to live for ourselves or live for others. What we decide depends on how we have understood the sacrifices of those who came before us.

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For the friends and families of the fallen, not a day goes by that we don’t remember. They are always with us.

Their character, their laughter, their hopes and aspirations – it stays with us and keeps us going. We choose to live for them.

As a people and as a nation, we cannot afford to let their light go out. We cannot afford to be so immersed in the daily grind of life that we forget – on Memorial Day and every day – to say their names, tell their stories, put flags on their graves, take a beer with them, to remember who they were and tell our children.

Their legacy is a better world because they lived. It is up to us to keep this heritage alive.

Evan Hafer is the founder and CEO of Black Rifle Coffee Company. He served in the US Army as a Green Beret and then as a contractor with the CIA.

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