September 11, 2001

Some people had had asked that I share my speech from today (September 11, 2013) since they couldn’t attend the event. So here it is. I hope I did their memory proud.


Good afternoon. I would first like to extend a very heartfelt thank you to Janna Thomsen. I am so grateful that she offered me this chance to speak about an event that has greatly affected and shaped the course of my life. Before I begin I wanted to take the time to acknowledge the esteemed speakers that I share the stage with. I’ll start with the County Executives who are charged with the very important job of leading Montgomery County. There is no doubt that his is a difficult and challenging position to hold. I will always pray that he’s blessed with the wisdom to carry out the duties of his office and continue to lead this county to greatness. Next I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all of “Sheep Dogs” on stage and in the audience. For those of you who may be confused as to what I mean, I am talking about those representing our Military, Police, and Fire and rescue. They are the protectors of our community, our nation, of our very way of life. They go when called without hesitation. They seek not glory, praise, prestige, or wealth. Their job satisfaction comes from knowing that you and I get to sleep peacefully in our beds. As we lie resting always keep in mind that we do so with our freedoms and liberty secured under the umbrella of their protection. So please join me in giving a round of applause to show our appreciation of all that they do.


I have a fairly unique perspective on the world post 9-11. I was there from day one, ground zero at the Pentagon. I took the first team from the US Army in to aid with search and rescue. A few years later I spent 2005-2006 riding atop a Humvee manning a .50 cal. On over 700 convoy missions I have traversed all across the nation of Iraq escorting VIP’S to and from their varied destinations across the land. In the time I spent performing these two roles I have seen all that is great in people. I have seen courage and fear, love and hate, cruelty and compassion, and I have experienced life and death.

That is a lot to cram into an 8-minute speech! With that in mind I decided that my goal would be two fold. First I want to demonstrate how far reaching that day is and show to you that its shadow actually extends much further than people realize. Secondly I hope to bring you face to face with the fact that regardless of how big an event is, when you look past the numbers and statistics you will find the individual stories that really matter. Once you do that the event becomes a lot more personal and intimate. If I am to be successful I need to do the best I can to make you understand the myriad of emotions that those like me have felt since our journey started that fateful day. I hope I can make this more personal for you. I want to bring it to your doorstep and share some of the emotions that I have felt during this long journey. If I can do that then I will ensure that when you leave here today, it will be reaffirmed in your heart and mind why we can never forget September 11th, 2001.


While remembering the event as a whole is an extremely important thing, often times we get lost in the big numbers. As we toss them around in our head we forget that all of those numbers are just like us. They had families, dreams, and ambitions. Ultimately they had the greatest thing we can possess; they had hope for a bright future. So in an effort to bring individualism to this mass causality event I have decided to speak about two different individuals whose lives were forever be linked in my mind to that day. One was a civilian, and one was a soldier.


When the call went out for a team leader to volunteer him and his men, my hand went up. They hadn’t told us what we were volunteering for, they didn’t have too, we were soldiers and our job is to go when asked. Shortly after collecting my guys together we were linked up with the individual in charge of those entering and exiting the Pentagon. We got a quick debrief and then with gloves and dust mask we made our way in. We were able to gain access through a door located on the far right corner of the same side the plane had struck.


As we entered it felt like I had stepped into some film that was telling the story of a forgotten war. I remember thinking to myself, ‘There’s no way this could be real life. No way had this happened in America. I have to be dreaming.’ Sadly as we all know, I was not.


As we walked along the corridor of what I had hoped was a dream was in fact a living nightmare. Walls were buckled, the ceilings had completely dropped, and loose wiring hung everywhere. On the floor there was about 3-6 inches of water that covered the ground. As we sloshed along you could see the debris destruction strewn everywhere, and as we got deeper and deeper into the heart of madness it became pitch black despite the fact that it was midday. This only heightened the feeling of dread in my gut. All of that was bad enough but what sticks out most to me was the smell. It was the God-awful smell of things that were burnt which shouldn’t be.


We continued to make our way through the maze of destruction until we entered our first room. There we found FBI and ATF agents all around. They were taking pictures, collecting evidence, and categorizing the scene. That’s when I saw him, the first person I would pull out. His name was Donald Simmons.


I knew his name because before we were allowed to remove him they rolled him over and took his ID out and stated it for the record Keeper. He was a large man, around 6’3”, and I had assumed by his attire that he may have been a janitor or maintenance man. We rolled him over on the litter, and began to make the trek back through the rubble to get him out.


The debris however made it a difficult maneuver. Every step caused us to slip or fall, and that ultimately meant that Mr. Simmons body kept falling over on me. At one point his hand rolled over and hit mine. That’s when I looked down and saw a wedding band. Instantly my heart sank. I knew right then that there was someone waiting at home, someone who counted on this man. He had someone who loved him, who shared his dreams, his hopes and fears, someone who would now face it all alone. That wedding band broke my heart, and the gut punch of it all was that all he was guilty of was going to work. That left me angry, that left me crying out for justice for him and those like him.


Fast forward a few years and a call came out again for volunteers. Again my hand went up and before I knew it I was on a plane headed to Iraq. I went as a replacement and when I got there I linked up with the guys I’d spend the rest of the tour with, the “Rough Riders” of the MNSTC-I J3. We were a two-platoon company of mixed service branches. Our Mission was pretty straightforward; escort VIP’s to anywhere in the land regardless of the threat level. I was in first Platoon and SSG Robert Hernandez was in 2nd. He roomed with my buddy Riki in the trailer next to mine. He was a funny guy. He had an accent so strong that half the time you couldn’t understand a word he said over the radio. He loved his coco puffs, and you never saw him without a smile on his face.


On March 28th, 2006 a mission came to drive down route Michigan, which was on the other side of Fallujah, to escort a General who was to go watch an Iraqi Police graduation. We had been down the route 10 times and we had been attacked (blown up or shot at) 9 of those times. It was the worst route we traveled and everyone knew what it meant.


On the road back from graduation they struck and IED and SSG Hernandez was blown from the vehicle. He was a double leg amputee. The other 3 inside the Humvee were critically injured as well. He held on and refused to give the enemy the satisfaction of passing away in the mud, so while everyone fought the enemy around him he held on.


While the other three men lived, SSG Hernandez unfortunately he died on the Medevac. He left behind a fiancée and three children. They are without a husband and father because he placed everyone’s lives here as having greater value than his own.


He, like so many of us that were in the military or joined the military after 9-11, requested deployment to make sure to avenge that day and hopefully prevent anther event like it. With that desire to take the fight to the enemy before the enemy could bring the fight to our door steps many of our brave service men and women have charged into combat only to fall on some distant land. Those who have returned have done so scarred physically, mentally, or both.


9-11 is still happening today. Yes almost 3000 Americans lost their lives on that day, but in its wake we have seen two wars fought that have produced staggering numbers that people don’t always associate with it.


Over 6,700 service members have been killed in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 50,000 have been injured. Our veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 18 per day as reported by CBS news. Sadly we are, for the first time in history, seeing more service members taking their own lives than those killed by the enemy.

We owe it to these brave men and women not only to remember but to care enough to do everything we can to see that they are taken care of. It is our turn to fight for them.


My experiences have caused me to shed tears in the dark far from prying eyes. As the saying goes:


“It hurts to remember, but it hurts even more to forget.”


So now, here in the light of day, in front of all of you I ask that you place individual names to this day. I hope that in doing so their face will serve as a stark reminder that the large numbers don’t really tell the whole story of all the individual life that has been lost. As you sit here today I hope you put a face to Donald’s and Robert’s name. I need you to imagine someone who you are close with in your life. I want you to think about someone you know in the military or thinking about going into the military.


Once you do this then take a minute to think about what life for you would be like if they were violently ripped away. Once you put your friends and family’s faces to 9-11 and the wars that have followed maybe you can begin to see the enormity of this event. Perhaps you will take time to reflect on how you’d feel if your loved ones were no longer a “Bob” or a “Sara”, a “Timmy” or a “Jane”, but instead they were just another statistic that people pass around in conversation.


Once you make that personal connection to the day, you will never even consider forgetting the importance of it, and you will do everything in your power to make sure the world doesn’t forget either. Thank you for your time.  Thank you for being here.  Thank you for remembering. God Bless the fallen and God bless America.


Thanks to everyone who attended this event and others like it around the world.

It’s One AM

InsomniaIts one am in the morning and you’re wide-awake, you toss and you turn unable to fall asleep. Your mind is racing, no matter which way you lay it won’t settle down.  It happens to us all from time to time, and some of us more so than others.  It’s not important that you’re up, what’s important is WHY you’re up, and the answer is either your nightmare or your dreams.

We are always hoping to not be woken in a cold sweat from a nightmare that was so vivid you’re sure it was real. At the same time we are always looking for an explanation, and interpretation of the dream we had last night. Everyone thinks that nightmares and dreams only happen when you’re asleep.  The truth is they are more important when they keep you awake.

So with that in mind let’s take a step into your bedroom.  It’s One AM, the TV has been off for hours, you’ve tried everything you know to invite sleep to come. Still, you’re awake, staring at a ceiling you can’t even see.  Your mind is scattered, images and Ideas run through your mind at a blistering pace. What is fueling their blitzkrieg?Dreams

Is your mind filled with everything that is wrong with your life? Is it filled with the contempt that comes from living someone else’s dream? Does your stomach toss and turn, finding itself twisted in knots over the notion of the alarm clock ringing its death bell? Does the repetitive buzzer fill you with dread knowing that it’s calling you to rise in disgust and move to take your place in a chain gang of cubicles filled with people who hold a job that they despise more than any of you could have possibly imagined? Does that guilt of knowing you settled for a life that was never in the plans of a child filled with hope leave you feeling hollow and unsettled? Does your nightmare start when you wake up?

Or do you find yourself laying in bed EXCITED, new ideas rushing through your mind so fast and so vivid that you just HAVE to get up and write them down now before the flood of visions is so fast, the current so strong that you are worried some will simply be swept off to see if they are not recorded right now?! Do you find yourself pissed because you can’t call anyone to go over the next amazing idea that has planted its seed in your heart? Do you find yourself waiting in eager anticipation for the joyous sound of the alarm clock whose beep beats second only to the pace of your own heart? Do you rise from bed in almost a sprint ready to face a day filled with others like you; movers, shakers, the builders of dreams?  Do you rush into your chosen profession, take up the yolk of those dreams, and pull it forward with an unbridled intensity that inspires those around you take up their yolk and pull as hard as you are?  Does your day end with the satisfaction of progress that moved you and your dream sharers forward?  Does your dream start when you wake up?


You can come up with a million reasons why you live your nightmare; they will all be easily justified by you. People will nod their head in agreement and say; “Oh yes, your boss sucks.”, or “You had a hard lot in life.”, or some other BS. At the end of the day, it all amounts to the same monotone language that Charlie Brown’s teacher used to utter to him. It’s all just “blah, blah… blah”!

Live the DreamYes, I am sitting here admitting that you can find justification for you living a nightmare, but regardless of what you sell the world, you can never really kid yourself. You will always know the truth. It will always be clear to you deep down inside that all the reasons you quit on your dream would have all fallen to the side if you would have focused on just one reason to chase it.

Yes it’s One AM and your still awake, is it because of your nightmare? Or is it because of your dreams? Only you can decide which one you live in. As for me I’ll stick to living the dream.

Just the rambling of an old infantry dude.

The Children Are Watching

As I navigated the streets throughout the country of Iraq while patrolling for the United States Army, I would pay close attention to one factor above all others – the reactions of the local children. If they were joyful with a welcoming smile, my trepidation about the roads ahead decreased ever so slightly. However, if the children were upset or angry, gesturing signs of disgust and contempt – if they assaulted us throwing rocks or shoes – then I knew it was just a matter of time until the next explosion, the next RPG, or the next ambush. Operation Iraqi FreedomIt all just lay around the bend. Children were my “spider sense” and my early warning beacon that let me know I would either experience safe passage or, in the next few minutes, fight for my life.

Perhaps no other window shines more clearly into the souls of the parents than through the light emitted – be it dim or bright – from the children they have raised. “I’ve been watching you,” a country song by Rodney Atkins, truly highlights this concept regardless of the example set by parents. It could be good or it could be bad. Our young children are looking to their parents for guidance, will follow their direction and use their advice as their own building blocks to develop into model adults.

Why I decided to write about this topic is a question many may ask. After hearing the verdict of the Zimmerman trial this past weekend, I have witnessed racial tension thrust back into the national media spotlight, which raised a question I must ask. How do we stop racial prejudice moving forward? Oftentimes the most complex problems have the simplest solution. In this case, the simple answer is in our children. The monkey wrench in the formula however is in reaching the parents.

The parents are “x” in the equation – the unknown variable we have to account for because we do not know their parenting styles, nor how they raise their children. In many situations, parents are also the paradox. Close to their heart, they carry a hope for a brighter future for their children and a deep-seated desire to establish a world free of hate and prejudice. Unfortunately for many, they also carry the tinder required to ignite the flames of hatred.Children

Thus, we are forced to ask the age-old question, “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” The problem is that parents are the product of their childhood and the raising of their own parents. The “simple” solution to our problem is already a step behind because our “solution enablers” – present-day parents – are already tainted with the very disease they wish to eradicate. Now, one is left to ponder out loud, “Is their any hope for a cure?” However, all you need to keep in mind is that vaccines are made from the very viruses that cause them.

When you make vaccines, a virus is weakened and introduced into a host body and then the body attacks said virus in order to build immunity. We must take this virus – in this case being the parents who have been raised and taught to hate – and weaken their resolve through education and example. Yes, this will be hard. But just because something will prove to be difficult does not mean that it’s impossible.

A lot of people may say that I am a dreamer, but I have lived this dream before.  I spent a year serving in Iraq, and while my tour wasn’t the worst, I defiantly spent plenty of time getting blown up, shot at, and in general, wondering if each guy standing on the street corners had devised plans to kill me. When you are living everyday with that suspense, on the edge, and never trusting the guy right next to you who doesn’t look familiar, it begins to wear you down. You start to develop an “us” versus “them” mentality and anyone who looks you in the face and tells you any different is full of shit. Your ability to trust wanes and your desire to strike first drastically increases.


When I returned from Iraq, I brought that experience back with me. I was uneasy in a room of Middle Eastern individuals. When they would walk in, I would begin to feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I would pay more attention to them than I would anyone else in the room. I actively sought to stay away from where I thought they might be. I was effectively racial profiling.

Very few people would have judged me for that behavior. Regardless I knew it was wrong and I had to find a way to get past it. However, that moral knowledge didn’t make it any easier to change my emotions. When multiple people of one race shoot at you on a daily basis or blow you up, that conditioned response is still hard to shake.

I take great pride in the fact that I am an American and that we are “mixing bowl” of cultures and creeds. I have fought to defend that very ideology an ocean away, and yet here, standing in the shadow cast by Lady Liberty, I was ignoring the promise offered and protected by her continual lit flame.

I began to examine how I was acting and feeling, asking myself the following questions: What type of hypocrite would I be if I came back home and lived in fear of others and spent my entire life in a self-induced segregation from people who have done no wrong to me? What type of coward would allow his fear to force him to make irrational generalizations simply based on what a ridiculously small percentage of an entire group had done to me in the past?

Reflecting on those questions in my mind with purpose and focus, I aimed to use logic instead of emotion. Once I achieved that goal, my emotions stopped controlling me. I have now lost that twinge of fear as I walk into a room full of Middle Easterns. I no longer seek to distance myself from them and I now feel like the American I want to be. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.Soldier Shaking Hands

This is the only chance we have to eradicate racism in our society, or any society for that matter. We need to face our fears and our prejudices without emotion. Oftentimes, emotions lead us down the wrong path. A man, who is not in control of his emotions, is not in control of himself.

In a recent movie staring Will Smith, he says to his son, “Danger is real. Fear is a choice.” The time is upon us to make the right choice – to chose to lead our children by the example we wish others would set – because it is us our children look to first.  The children are watching, and  you just never know. Your child might be the one to change the world.

…. Just the rambling of an old infantryman.

Winds and Words

Winds and words, their power to affect the lives of men is immeasurable. Both can be harnessed to better the lives of all around us, they can also, if mishandled lead to the destruction of those we love. No mater the wall that is built, literal or figurative, they both have the power to chip away at the strongest foundation.

Winds can topple buildings, and literally reshape entire landscapes. They are what spread the wildfires that ravage the wood lines. They bring the waves crashing onto the coast when massive hurricanes strike. They uproot and move entire houses in tornado ally.


Yet, for all the potential damage they can do, I have not met a person who didn’t fantasize about relaxing under a shade tree with a bay breeze coming in off the water. Every one of us has enjoyed a ride down the road at some point with the top down or with the windows open, feeling the gentle push of its cooling embrace against our face. Ships have prayed for the winds to stir, and move them along their journey. As technology advanced and allowed us to no longer require the wind to set sail with our major vessels we turned to it to power our cities.  There is no escaping our need for it. You can’t see it, only sometimes can you hear it, but you can ALWAYS feel it.

Words are much the same. They can spread the seeds of hate and bigotry. They can be used to tear down any belief, any faith. They are capable of destroying common ground; the very foundation societies are built on. Friendships are often lost on the tongue. Words can be used to lie, to corrupt, and to manipulate. They can be spouted with much vigor and fervor to march men off to war. They can destroy dreams and shatter confidence.

Yet just like the wind, for all the destruction that a slight of the tongue can produce we still long for all the goodwill it can create. Who from a young age hasn’t wished for the simple yet priceless pleasure we gain from a few well-spoken verses? Who hasn’t wanted to hear “Great job” from a mentor? Who amongst us hasn’t yearned for our heart to feel the exhilaration produced from reading a love letter from the person you covet the most.

encourageHaven’t we all desired to feel that stir in our soul as we listened to a call to action for a worthy cause?  Words are much like the wind in that you only know they are there because of the wake they leave as they pass you by. You can sometimes see them written on paper, you can sometime hear them as they roll of the lips, but regardless of the medium, just like the wind you can ALWAYS feel them.

So how do we master them? How do we gain control of them and make them work for us? The truth is that you never really do. When a sailboat captain sets sail for a long voyage he doesn’t know when or which direction he wind will blow, he only knows that at some point it will blow and he has to be prepared to harness it.

Words are much the same way, you don’t know whom or when people will speak good or ill of you, but you can rest assured good or bad no matter what, people will talk about you. Its up to you to be prepared, regardless of the words they speak, to use them to move you onward to your dreams.

Our success and survivability varies greatly among men based on their ability to understand that while we can never control the external forces from either, we can control our internal reactions to each.  In doing so we are able to change our sails to harness their power and move us though our course, rather than break under the bludgeoning’s of their force, and find ourselves stranded and alone.

Just the ramblings of an ol’ infantryman

Position Envy

I think at some point in our life we are all guilty of this. I mean who hasn’t dreamed of being the Team Captain, the shift manager, or top executive? How many times have you or someone you knew said something along the lines of “I could do that job so much better than so and so”. This is a condition that I call “Position Envy” and if it carry’s on past adolescence, it says a great deal about the individual experiencing it.

You see everyone that suffers from “Position Envy” just cant wait to be in charge so they can tell others what to do! I mean being the leader would be great! No more listening to anyone else, no more doing the crappy jobs that no one wants to do, no more working long hours, the rewards go on and on.

I mean once they get that title, rank, or that position they have coveted for so long, they believe they instantaneously became superior to everyone around them! Everyone will bow down and do their bidding. All will be right in the world. The whole time they are secretly waiting for conflict so that they can throw their new title around. They will be quick to ask the offender; “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know my rank? How dare you challenge me?

What these individuals fail to realize, is that while the mantle of leadership can be bestowed upon any man or woman, the respect of those under you can not be passed on so easily. Positions do not build teams, they don’t solve problems, and they cant ensure success. Only leaders can do that, and leaders inherently understand that they don’t require a position or a title to affect change and exert influence in their lives or organization. Thats why leaders don’t suffer from “Position envy”.

It is not a bad thing to want to want to become a leader or to get better at leading. The first rule that we must understand however is that essential building block of leadership is a desire for service, not glory. Therefore individuals who are obsessed with position, will always fail to either attain that position, or be successful long term once they do. The main driving force behind “position envy” is arrogance and ego. Those traits can not long sustain any leader, regardless of how great the organization’s mission statement is.

Arrogance and ego are the bane of all successful organizations. Success is never accomplished by any one individual alone. Someone who has “position envy” simply doesn’t get that. If they did they’d spend their time focused on the success of the collective rather than the status they hold within it.
Just the ramblings of an ol’ infantry dude.