Honoring the fallen is never taboo. It is an obligation and duty to articulate our great appreciation for the service members who have gone before us. All veterans must stand in defiance of memory lapses and indifference. We must not allow our comrades’ sacrifices to fade into the background of daily routine. We can do this by understanding what makes us different. Why are we willing to sacrifice for the service member to our left or right? Our mission is to find the secret that separates inspiration from the ordinary. The only way to accomplish this is to consider the blood that has been shed in protection of our country or flows in the hearts of the women and men in uniform today. Here, inside us, we find the answer.
From the generations who served before to the modern warriors of the present, service members want to be led by passionate leaders who are the living embodiment of core values. When leaders apply those values to their lives, they spark enthusiasm to follow their example. The virtues that make up modern warfighters’ DNA are as important as the blood that courses through their veins.
These virtues originated from a choice each of us made—to contribute where others lacked the courage or the will, to make a difference. Something inside us stirred an intense passion that could not be explained. This calling proved greater than the need to follow our egos on the route to riches and glory. We chose a different path, one of servitude for the greater good of humanity and to stand up for what we believe in. This same calling is the strength that guides us down the road to setting examples, living core values, and investing in our warfighters. It is the fight inside our fast-beating hearts that drives us relentlessly to success.
We defend citizens who may have a negative view of those who serve. Even at times when the perception is skewed, wrong, or altogether inaccurate, based on an incomplete understanding of who we are, we defend them nonetheless. We dedicate ourselves to protecting people who may even despise us. Inspiration stands firm in the face of adversity and does not back down. This perseverance is the key to leaders motivating troops to overcome fear, doubt, and a lack of confidence. One leader can illuminate much like a candle, soft and warmly glowing. However, with the flame of inspiration burning even more brightly, it can also light millions of other candles.
Leaders can operate in any environment, from the private sector to the modern battlefield, and in any branch of military service. This can be traced to a passion for learning. Being a leader means that you must know your profession. The thought process is that “before I can demand someone else to know their profession, I must first know mine.” Any occupation can prosper from lifelong learners who are eager to seek self-improvement, a trait especially passed from one military mentor to the next. Traditions are a great example of self-discovery, because they identify who we were in our past.
Leaders in the U.S. armed forces are special, and they particularly take care of our most treasured assets, the people. In the private sector, some of them would be on the same tier as industry leaders. But we follow a different path, one of sacrifice, honor, courage, and total dedication to our fellow service people. When we see another member commit an act of heroism, or selflessly work until zero dark thirty, it is in these moments we see ourselves for who we are. We are the protectors of freedom, a sacred vow that we all took when we raised our hands and swore to support and defend the Constitution, a promise that we uphold with our very lives.
What does it mean to be a warrior-leader today at the forefront of the battlefield? Whatever battlefield that may be—from the office to the field, garrison, or a combat zone—the terrain within does not change. The terrain defines us in many ways. My favorite has always been the warrior poet, a rugged, intense, and passionate warfighter unafraid to change a child’s diaper or read poetry to his or her spouse. The feudal defenders of Japan, the samurai, lived by a set of values known as “bushido.” Honor, respect, loyalty, and family are aspects of bushido that parallel the core values service members uphold today. Also much like the samurai, we strive for perfection not only in the combat arts but in all aspects of the warrior dimension, on and off duty. Battle drills and professional reading lists are just a few examples of self-mastery in today’s armed forces.
The traits of a leader are articulated in professional publications. They can be a focus during an education group, leadership panel, or an exercise that attempts to unlock everyone’s universal potential. For many, the only way to understand inspiration is to completely internalize it with the five senses. Each must feel it and join with the energy because all know at that moment they are a part of something exceptional. No doubt there are many leaders whom one would never emulate. Humans are prone to mistakes, and it is wise to learn from others and not make the same ones when it is your turn to lead. Inspiration is guided by your ability to regulate yourself. Continue to demand from within before you demand from others; lead yourself before you lead others. This keeps us on the correct trajectory.
If one were able to analyze a figurative blood drop on the battlefield, myriad virtues would likely stand out:
• Empathy. All veterans share hardships, and this creates a level of understanding of what each has been through. When there is no more water, we share what little we have in our canteens.
• Lifelong learning. The warrior always strives to become stronger, smarter, and faster than the day prior. Drill after drill we become more adept and proficient. “The more we sweat, the less we bleed.”
• Universal leadership. We are counselors, janitors, mechanics, or better put, the proverbial “jacks of all trades,” despite what our military occupational specialty has us labeled. Stepping into the military, one assumes the billet of everything.
• Passion. Love what you do, because it affects more than just yourself. People can sense sincere enthusiasm, and it becomes very easy to follow integrity and sincerity.
• Integral fight. This can be described as standing up for what you believe in, even when it is not the popular opinion or may go against the careerist mentality. Our warfighters are more important than our promotion.
It has been my life’s work to serve. In so doing, I have had an opportunity to become part of an extraordinary extended family. Despite what some may think, it truly is an honor to serve with such professionals in a chaotic world. It is a family filled with unlimited possibilities, potential, and the chance to achieve beyond the scope of tangible accomplishments. When you become part of this family you change, and the change for everyone is on the inside. It is because of you I have changed. Your courageous actions have created a connection that will link us for eternity.
The foregoing is presented in loving memory of and dedication to my younger cousin, Marine Lance Corporal Joshua T. Twigg, killed in action 2 September 2010, Helmand province, Afghanistan. The stain of your warrior blood will never be washed from my thoughts.
First Sergeant Twigg served in combat as a Marine sniper. He is currently assigned to 8th Engineer Support Battalion as the Support Company first sergeant and is the author, with Robert S. Nahas, of A Leader Provides (Clearwater, FL: Prominent Books, 2009).