Not All Soldiers’ Deaths Come on Battlefield

Our country sets aside three distinct holidays meant to praise the sacrifice of those who answered our nation’s call to duty in the military.

Armed Forces Day honors those on active duty, currently separated from family and friends, ever vigilant, serving as our nation’s previous guardians of liberty. Veterans Day honors those who served in our military, in peacetime and in combat, who although no longer are serving in the military, still bear the physical and mental scars of service above self, and the silent pride of knowing in so many ways they made a difference in our world.

Then there is Memorial Day, the most reverent of this trinity.

Memorial Day is a simple holiday that carries with it the weight of all those who not only served in uniform, but who were lost in the service of this country. In a world that so easily throws out the word “hero,” the men and women we honor on Memorial Day are the truest definition, both in word and deed. Memorial Day is our time as a nation to honor those men and women who were the embodiment of the lyrics ”…heroes proved, in liberating strife, who more themselves, their country loved, and mercy more than life…”

Yet how do you truly honor someone who gave all in our name?
These men and women woke up every day and put service to their country above themselves with very little thanks, and sadly for some in the most horrific of conditions. When was the last time anyone of us set aside a day or a week in selfless service to something other than ourselves? Memorial Day is the day in which we should be asking “what is our debt to our fallen heroes, what do we owe them?”

On past Memorial Days, I have written of patriotism and heroism, hoping my words do justice to those we were meant to honor. Memorial Day is our chance to reflect upon the cost our countrymen paid to secure our liberty, and even if only for a moment, express our gratitude for those who sacrificed all in the service of our freedom. Stories of heroism are as unique as the men and women who experienced the gallant deed, and deserve an individual reverence.

However, not all acts of heroism are on the battlefield, and sometimes their lives end because of our avoidable failures as a country.

The hard truth about military conflict is that our soldiers not only die for old men’s and women’s wars, but also to the folly of bureaucrats and politicians. The loss of any solider in conflict is difficult to overcome, especially for the family and friends of the fallen. However, when their death comes from the very system that was intended to protect and care for them, their sacrifice is soiled by our failures as a nation to repay the debt we owe them.

On March 31, after a painful, yet courageous battle with leukemia, U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Goggin passed away. Ryan fought until the end, staying true to the “Soldiers Creed” to ”…never accept defeat” and “never quit…” ( Warriors do not know how to stop fighting, the very thought of defeat is abhorrent to a soldier. Ryan was a warrior we as a nation should be proud to call an American soldier. If only our deeds as a nation matched Ryan’s commitment to his country.

Sadly, Ryan’s story has become all too familiar. While serving in combat, Ryan was injured when an IED blew up his tank. After 10 years of active service, Ryan came home suffering from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD, and found himself engaged in a new battle, one with the VA.

Ryan’s story of recovery is long and filled with many twists, turns, frustrations and failures. Ryan’s journey from the battlefield through the bureaucratic nightmare we call the VA illustrates how the way we provide health care to those who served in the military is in critical need of reform.

Adding to the frustration of dealing with a broken system, Ryan learned he had been listed on the Open Burn Pit Registry (OBPR). Like many of you, I had never heard of the OBPR until I was part of an interview with Ryan’s mother, Michele Goggin. OBPR is a national list of war veterans exposed to dangerous chemicals during certain operations – chemicals that can lead to various illnesses, including cancer.

Some may be taken aback by this article, and what may seem like a harsh tone on such a solemn topic. Some may not know how Ryan’s legacy fits in our discussion regarding his service and his sacrifices. Ryan’s story is a Memorial Day story, one that should not have ended the way it did.

Ryan’s death was most likely avoidable, and his unneeded suffering is a cross he should not have needed to bear. Not all heroes die on the battlefield, some die suffering because many in our country have turned a blind eye to the promise we made as a nation to care for those who served on our behalf. Ryan did what we asked of him, yet we failed him when he needed our help. We put Ryan and his family before a formidable enemy: an uncaring government and an indifferent apparatus in the form of the VA. The bitter reality each of us must face today is that a system of our making managed to do to Ryan what our enemy was unable to do.

This Memorial Day pray for all those who perished in the service of our country. Pray for those families that have lost a loved one. However, we also must pray for those currently in the system, fighting a new skirmish, abandoned by the very country they swore to “bear true faith and allegiance.” Pray on Memorial Day, but on the day after do something to ensure we repay our debt to those who believed in the words “who more themselves, their country loved.”

Remember Sgt. Ryan Goggin and his family this Memorial Day, for he was a hero we owe so much to, and whose sacrifice we can only repay by making sure that none of his fellow warriors suffer the same fate.

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