“When my generation went to war we didn’t have it hard. I mostly sat in air conditioned connexes during my time in Iraq; a far cry from the harsh war the WWII generation faced…”

That’s a paraphrase of the last Memorial Day speech I attended a couple of years back. The speaker, a Sergeant Major in the National Guard, was playing to the crowd. His audience had largely never known combat, and their faint memories were, at best, second or third hand stories from their grandparents or great grandparents.

The Tip Of The Spear

Yet many of us in the GWOT generation were not so far removed from the realities of combat. An intense minority of us were heavily vested in waging direct and indirect war for the past two decades plus. Back in 2006, when I was getting ready to attend Special Forces Assessment and Selection, I remember the sentiment expressed clearly by a Special Forces soldier: “The American People aren’t fighting these wars; the Department of Defense is.”

By the time I did my first combat deployment as a Special Forces soldier, I was deploying alongside men who were on their 8th or 9th straight deployment. The level of personal sacrifice that these men put in eclipsed even the most momentous adventures of the WWII generation. For those at the very tip of the spear, the GWOT was a near continuous cycle of combat deployments until you: became a direct casualty, begrudgingly took a 2-3 year staff job, or separated from the military (often as a medical retirement). The Optempo was exceedingly high. We surpassed the level where the force was expected to break entirely sometime in the late 2000’s but the war continued on for more than another decade.

Those who survived this continuous deployment cycle live with the memories of friends who have long since passed. To us, each Memorial Day is a reminder of our still young friends, but also a reminder that most of those around haven’t the faintest idea of what those years were like.

Remembering the Fallen

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

– John 15:13

For those of you who have managed to remain mostly disconnected from war these past decades, let me share with you the sacrifices of some of the friends and colleagues we lost along the way.

SFC Ryan Savard

I had the honor of serving with and deploying alongside Ryan. He was well liked throughout the company, and by all accounts was an outstanding soldier. He made his way to the highest level of our profession before sacrificing his life for others in 2012.

SFC Michael Cathcart

I worked alongside SFC Cathcart for a number of years. We had the same job, though on different teams. His large smile was a welcome and uplifting sight to his teammates. He gave his life during his fifth deployment to Afghanistan in 2014.

Staff Seargeant Christopher J Antonik

My team and I were colocated with Staff Sergeant Antonik and his Marine Special Operations Team for a time in Afghanistan. He was well-respected amongst his team and a very accomplished Marine. He gave his life during combat operations in one of the hottest parts of Afghanistan, Helmand Province, in 2010.


Ken McGonigle

What the public knows of contractors is mostly from bad press and controversial stories. What often goes unstated is the multitude of contractors who regularly sacrifice on par with servicemen. Ken was a consummate professional, and it was an honor to get to work with him. He died in Afghanistan in 2010 at the hands of an insurgent. While I wasn’t present for it, the circumstances of his sacrifice were heroic.


The Edge of The World

Very far from home, on the edge of the civilized world, these men gave their lives for others. Say what you will about the state of the world today, their actions and lives are worthy of remembrance. They kept the fragile world we live in together for a time, and for that we all owe them.

I sincerely hope these men have gone to be with the Lord, and that their families may find peace in that.

For those of us still here in the world, let us honor their sacrifices today and let their lives be an inspiration.