I was invited to give a speech about being wounded in combat at Maize South Middle School in Kansas on November 8, 2013. This assembly was something the schools staff and students put together to honor our nation's veterans. It was a complete honor to be invited. But I was very apprehensive about going and talking about my injuries. I was nervous because I had not really shared much about my story, other than through blogs and small talk. This was a great test and challenge I completely accepted.
I was mostly worried about my delivery and keeping my emotions at bay. But as I entered the gymnasium I realized that most of what I was scared about seemed to dissipate. I felt at home again. I saw many familiar faces, recognized old coaches, and talked with young kids. (The Veterans) We ate, read some very funny cards from young students, and mostly enjoyed ourselves. It was a great time.
The atmosphere is just how I remember it; warm and welcoming. I had the privilege to talk about my experiences at a school I found myself in. A place where I was pushed and encouraged to reach higher. Also was the place where I watched the Twin Towers fall. It came time for me to give my speech and as I grabbed the microphone my words just started flowing. I talked about how I trained and volunteered during a time of war. I talked about funny instances being young and stupid in the military. I challenged everyone in the room to make their life count. I had fun with it. It felt good.
When I wrapped up the speech, every single person stood up and began to cheer and clap. I felt great, but I was mostly proud of myself for simply doing it. I was happy I kept my emotions under control and was able to connect to the audience and the veterans in front of me. When I sat down, I felt relieved. I had overcome a huge obstacle that had been nagging me by turning down opportunities to tell my story. To honor the men that I had served with and to keep serving the veterans that transition is something I value. I am no longer afraid of telling my story, I am proud to tell my story.
After I handed the microphone off to Jim, the principal, he turned to the crowd and applauded my speech and pointed out some key messages. He then told Maize Middle School, "that I had a great story to tell and that what I have overcome made me a model American and a model Maize High School graduate." This statement completely wiped out my doubtful thoughts about my story and has sparked something new. I now have the ability to tell others why I am here and at the same time honor my Ranger buddies who never made it home. I never thought I would do this or overcome this fear. I never thought I would face my story and inspire others by it. But I found that even though there were 1,000 people inside that gym, I connected to everyone of them by something I experienced.
I dont think that the Middle Schoolers, Staff, and Administrators realize how much they helped me. They were not only a motivated bunch but they pushed me past a fear I have never faced. I want to tell them all "Thank You" for listening and helping me through that obstacle. I will never forget that experience.
This picture is a reminder that we all still have a purpose.
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