To the children of my fallen classmates,
Smile. I know you lost a parent, but I want you to smile. Every day you can continue the mission your parents set out to achieve.
See, at 17 or 18 years old, your mom or dad decided to serve our country because they believed in being a part of something greater than themselves. First, they, along with me, and the rest of our 2003 class, had to get through four years at West Point. We quickly learned the only way we could do that was together.
West Point purposefully overloaded us in our academics to teach us how to deal with stress and sift through what’s extraneous work.
Every Saturday, we had room inspections. They would come in with a white glove and rub every horizontal surface, from inside your CD drive to the lock that pops out of your door. And G-d help you if you were a freshman and they found dust.
To graduate, we had to complete a challenging obstacle course in a certain amount of time. It was a lot of upper body mixed with endurance. In the indoor portion, after climbing the rope, we had to run around the track with a 10-pound medicine ball.
West Point challenged all of us mentally, physically and emotionally.
One classmate told me years later that during basic training freshman year, she was struggling and I told her, “Come on, you can do this. Just relax and breathe.”
We all suffered together and supported each other. The bond we created was unlike anything else. So, when any single one of us got hurt, we all hurt. There was and is love and loyalty between every member of our graduating class. Unfortunately, we are no longer whole. We lost eight of our classmates in combat and one from the effects of PTSD. Among those we lost, of course, were your parents.
Our class motto is Protectors for the Free, and with the help of our class president, we started The Protectors of the Free Foundation. Together, we raise money to make sure you, the children of our fallen classmates, have money to go to college.
However, more than the money to go to college, I want to share with you why, when you smile, you continue a mission that led to the loss of your parents’ lives.
At West Point, our leaders constantly told us to choose the harder right over the easier wrong. As a member of our 2003 class, your parents committed to making choices in life based on what was right and not what was easy.
Also, West Point taught us never to get overwhelmed. Whether battling an enemy or facing a math test, life is going to throw you a lot of challenges and sometimes all at once. But as long as your parents were alive, they always kept going and kept pushing. We all knew and learned that as long as you keep fighting, you will always have a chance to accomplish whatever you want in life.
While your parents’ lives ended short, their mission and the mentality they possessed in the process can continue every day with you and with us all. Regardless of the conflicts in our lives or the tasks that we need to complete, we must always smile.
The greatness in our country lies in our everyday citizens. When we smile, we offer kindness, which brings the best out of people. And when your parents chose to go to West Point and later on, on the day they lost their lives, they weren’t fighting for themselves. Your parents fought to better us all. When you smile, you can do the same.
We are all proud of you.
The class of 2003 is here for you if you need anything.