By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom
This time of year it’s easy to get caught up in the hectic holiday planning and festivities. Errands to run. Turkeys to cook. Houses to clean. Miles to cover. Hosting to do. Yesterday, with my giant Thanksgiving “to do” list in hand (I’ve got three Thanksgiving’s to prepare for) my world stopped spinning. It was stilled, centered, and refocused. What I’m trying to say is I got a refreshed perspective on Thanksgiving – thanks to Rob.
Rob is a quiet guy. Unassuming. He’s a reserved observer. You’d miss him in a crowd, but I think that’s OK with him. He’s more of a behind-the-scenes team-player. Yesterday however, he boldly came forward and captivated a room. For the first time since he was nearly killed in 2009, he publicly shared his story of how he was severely wounded in combat. He came forward at a national press conference in the hopes that he could increase the employment opportunities for others like himself.
His story drew me in – it was like listening to a plot line for the next action movie… Scene: Open to a winding road in a canyon in Afghanistan. See a Humvee with a military police officer (Rob), a translator, and two Soldiers turn the corner, and boom, IED. Rob, the only survivor, is on fire from gasoline. Making it out of the destroyed vehicle, he comes under gunfire. With no other options, he jumps off a cliff unsure of when or where he’d land. Splash, water – but he cannot swim. Luckily the currents pull him to shore. After the explosive fireworks from an A-10, he’s medevac’d out. As the Chinook takes off, the pilot asks, “How’s he looking?” The medic replies, “You better step on it.” Scene fades. Next, there’d be a montage of scenes of Rob focusing on his recovery at a Warrior Transition Unit… second and third degree burns, back spasms, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder, then a Purple Heart presented personally by President Obama. Fast forward three years, and see Rob working at the FBI and a newlywed. His story invisible to the casual observer – he’s just “another suit” at work.
As he recanted his story, these words gave me pause: “When I took my oath, raised my hand, and swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, I meant it.” He went on to explain, “If I couldn’t serve in the Army any more, I knew I wanted to serve my country by working in the federal government.”
Continue to serve? I thought. Hasn’t he served enough – and more than most already? He must have read my mind as he added, “Yes, I was messed up pretty bad. One-hundred percent disabled. I didn’t need a job – I wanted one. I was too young to be retired. I needed a new purpose … I was happy to be alive!”
By the end of his story, I’d literally teared up, laughed, and had my mouth drop open. I also came to the conclusion that none of my holiday worries mattered. The list was not what Thanksgiving was about.
He closed his story with a quote from Albert Einstein, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
This Thanksgiving, I’ll be saying a prayer for the Soldiers who take the oath to do something about the evil in the world. I’ll be thankful for Rob.