In Memoriam

Most of what I write here is written because I enjoy expressing myself in the medium of words. And I think that sometimes, the things I write might be worth the time spent reading them.

This is not one of those times.

I’m writing this now because it’s important that these words exist, whether anyone reads them or not. They are memories that I have of those who are no longer with us. Men I served with. Men who deserve to have some part of them live on long after they’re gone. We honor them by sharing what parts of themselves they left with us. We are the sum of the impacts of the people we encounter. This is the best I can do to pay them back.


I didn’t know Scotty well. We spent a few months together in Africa 15 years ago. He was one of the SEALs that was a part of the detachment in which I served. Mostly his job was to go with me into places no one could find on a map on whatever vehicle we could use to get there and make sure that if anything went sideways, someone more tactically effective than myself could get us out. Jet Ski’s, zodiacs, RIB boats, whatever we could find, I spent hours on end with Scotty.

He was quiet and diminutive. He was just a kid when we worked together. So was I. After a few weeks of talking to mostly old men and their families on rickety fishing boats and ancient harbor landings, with Scotty fully jocked up, body armor, ballistic helmet and long gun, Scotty looked at me one day and said, “LT this if fuckin stupid. I’m scaring these people to death”. Then he took off his gear and put his rifle under the deck of our boat. And for the rest of the time we worked differently.

Scotty was killed Syria last year by a suicide bomber. He was there as a civilian attached to the Defense Intelligence Agency.


Shelly was one of the SEALs that relieved the group Scotty was with. He was a dead ringer for Johnny from The Karate Kid.  He came off as a typical SoCal surfer with wavy blonde hair and lay back affect. He wasn’t from SoCal though. He was a kid from outside Philly, just like me, and he came to life when you got him talking about Philly sports. We killed hours burning through the great Eagles teams of the 80’s and the miserable “Steve Jeltz” Phillies.

As a non-SEAL in leadership positions where SEALs were involved, I always needed a few frog men that were ok with serving with and sometimes reporting to an “other than SEAL” officer. Without that support, the whole thing would fall apart. It didn’t take long for most to see that I knew my job and I wouldn’t try to do theirs or do something stupid and get us all killed, but at the beginning, someone in the group had to trust me and model that trust for the others. Shelly was one of those guys.

I saw him in the admin detachment office in Coronado 2005. He gave me a big bear hug and knocked my cover off. That was the last time I saw him.

He was killed in a dive training accident in May of 2009.


Seth was in my Plebe Summer company at Annapolis. The first time I saw him we were lined up outside our rooms in the hallway in our bathrobes just before lights out. One of the detailers asked a question we were supposed to know the answer to and some tall, rangy kid with a freshly shorn head stuck out his fist and answered in an outrageous booming voice and Texas twang that made the detailer laugh.

We weren’t best of friends but we got to know each other the way you do when you spend four years together at Annapolis. He was like a big kid, usually cheerful and upbeat, often deflecting questions he didn’t feel like answering and skipping deep conversation. He always seemed to be playing some sort of caricature of himself. He played dumb. He wasn’t. He would do things just to see how you reacted. Mostly he just liked to make people laugh. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. Everyone liked Seth.

After we graduated, he went into the SEAL Teams. He was a platoon commander in the Battle of Ramadi with Task Unit Bruiser and the only member of my class to be awarded the Silver Star. I ran into him sometime after Ramadi at a high school track meet my wife was coaching. He was there mentoring someone. He wore his khaki uniform with his big gold trident and silver star on display. We talked for a bit. He was different. The caricature was gone, worn off by war and life and whatever had passed since we were kids together. It was just Seth. We made a promise to get together sometime. We never did.

Seth was killed in a skydiving accident in 2017.


Jeremy was my friend. We spent four years together at Annapolis and much of the summer after we graduated before he went off to the Basic School to become a Marine Corps officer. He loved the Red Sox and was the best Rugby player I’d ever seen play in person. We had a running joke that that he was a taller, more athletic, better looking version of me. A girl we both dated briefly once told me that if she’d known about him, she would have skipped me all together. She was only half joking. And I didn’t care. Jeremy was the kind of guy that it was hard to be jealous of. He did everything better than everyone and still came off as likable.

He became a Force Recon marine and served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A mutual friend of mine ran into him in DC a little while after his last pump down range. He said Jeremy was running a little hot. He didn’t really seem like himself; like the off switch was broken.

He shot me a Facebook message in January of 2011 letting me know he’d be out in San Diego soon. And that we should get together. We didn’t.

Jeremy was killed in a BASE jumping accident in July of that year.

I leave these memories here so that one day someone, somewhere will read them and know these men a little better. They are more than their headstones and the documented actions they took in war. They were flesh and blood. Sons. Brothers. Friends.

Today our task is to remember them.




The Blank Check

 “A veteran is someone who, at one point in their life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America, for an amount up to and including their life.”

That’s an unattributed quote that gets thrown around a lot. It’s a thought that’s never quite squared with me though. I’m a veteran. And when I signed up, I didn’t write any blank checks. I signed up to do a job for a reason. I did it because it was a good and honorable profession. It paid for my college. And when that obligation was met I kept doing it because it paid me well and took care of my family. And then one day when I couldn’t do it any more, I stopped. Or at least I tried. But I couldn’t. Because I didn’t know how.

When I started, I never really thought that my life was at risk any more than anyone else that drove on a freeway to work, or flew a plane for a living or worked on a high-rise construction site. I’d like to think that I chose the path that I did out of patriotism. That I raised my hand because I loved my country and that I wanted to defend our way of life.  It’s not that I don’t. Or that I wouldn’t. It’s just been a long time since anyone of us had to actually defend an American’s ability to live the American way in America. Really long. Centuries. So when that particular reverence is paid to vets, I struggle with it. Because when we’re really honest, most vets would tell you what I just did.

There’s something comforting to the notion that those that made the ultimate sacrifice had an expectation that their service may be their end. Somehow, it makes us feel better about it. They all knew what they were getting into. Or so goes the story. The truth is, that’s not how it works. We signed up for our own reasons and hoped for experiences that would help shape us. We wanted camaraderie and war stories. We wanted the glory of serving during battle and the recognition that came with it. None of us wanted to die.  Almost none of us expected we would. But sometimes it happened.  It’s a heavy price to pay. And one that’s been paid by too many of our nation’s young.

Every now and then, I take a run to the Cabrillo Monument, out at the end of Point Loma where I live in San Diego. It’s a beautiful run that takes you past a panoramic view of the harbor and the San Diego skyline. It also takes you through Fort Rosecrans cemetery, where thousands of veterans are buried in a long rolling plot of land that is straddled by the bustling of San Diego harbor on one side and the quiet enormity of the Pacific on the other.

There’s one particular marker that sticks out, near the ocean side entrance. SGT Alejandro Dominguez was killed June 25th 2008, ten weeks short of hisTombstone 25th birthday.  I didn’t know SGT Dominguez. We didn’t serve together.  His gravestone, his obituary and an official press release with a two line blurb about his death are all I needed to know.

He woke up on his 18th birthday, September 11, 2001, to see the attack on the World Trade Center. The day he was old enough to go to war for his country, his country went to war. Shortly after, he enlisted and made multiple deployments to Iraq. On his last, while serving in Al Anbar, his vehicle hit a roadside bomb, killing him and SPC Joel Taylor and PFC James Yohn, two soldiers junior to him whose lives he no doubt felt accountable for.

There’s a narrative about SGT Dominguez that  you could build that sounds like this.  He was born on 9/11.  In an act of patriotism he rushed out to defend his country and willingly sacrificed himself to defend our way of life. In the end he payed the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. May he rest in peace.

Knowing what I know about the young men and women I served with, there’s probably truth to that. But I also know something else. It’s incomplete.

SGT Dominguez did his part. He raised his hand. And served his time. But he went back for more. Because like so many, he did write that blank check. Not to America. But to the life of a soldier at war.

In 2004, about the time that SGT Dominguez was heading out for his first deployment, I was coming home. I’d just completed back to back tours in Operation Enduring Freedom. I was done. I resigned my commission and transitioned out a few weeks after I returned to be with my wife and start a family. About six months later, Operation Red Wings went down. It was the mission that would eventually be made into the movie Lone Survivor. 19 Special Operations personnel were lost. Men I knew.

The day that it happened, the wife of a friend of mine called me. Her husband was deployed. It was heir first go at it as a married couple. She had watched the news and was worried. She asked me if I had any information about the operation or who had been involved and if her husband were ok. I couldn’t tell her anything. I didn’t know anything. I was out of the loop. I was away from the life, getting my information from the news, just like her. I hung up the phone and got sick. I may have been done with the life, but it wasn’t done with me. The guilt was overpowering. The urge to fight back was all consuming, but impossible all the same. I was lost.

About a year later, I was recalled back to active duty. I was happy to be back where I belonged, with my brothers and sisters in arms, fighting again.

I hadn’t realized that I too had written that blank check, or who I had written it to, until  I was standing on the tarmac at the on ramp of a C17 heading to Iraq, leading a troop one last time. I felt whole again. More whole than I ever felt as a husband. More whole then I ever felt as a father. Perhaps like SGT Dominguez, watching over his two junior soldiers heading out the door one last time, leaving a wife and two young children behind, never to see them again.

The life is hard to stop living.  And the fallen of my generation, more times than not, fell before they had a chance to try.  And too many more of them fell after they left, failing to find the purpose or the drive they once felt at war.

The fallen are heroes. Maybe more than we realize. All of those men and women laying beneath those humble stones had plans for the days after they died. They all had hopes to get out alive, even if they didn’t know how. To start or finish a family. Write a book. Start a blog. But none of them did. They gave their life to a task that only they could do. Or a teammate only they could save. For many of them, the life of a warrior was all they knew any more. All they would do. All they could do.

This war has shaped my generation the way that only a war that travels with fighting men and women for 15 years can. And for those of you whose check was cashed, we remember you this weekend. Not because of the hundreds of millions of Americans sleeping soundly in their beds at night. Chances are, they’d still be sleeping soundly if you were still alive, perhaps even if you never went. Remember you for the brothers and sisters who fought this war with you. And the bond we have. And the debt you paid for us. You never got the chance to try to stop living the life. And for that, we will be forever in your debt.

In Memory of My Friends

Freedom isn’t free. That’s the message playing out on my social media stream with heartfelt devotion this Memorial Day weekend in pictures of Arlington National Cemetery or flag draped coffins, reminding us, maybe for just a few days, that some have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. And as a Veteran, I am deeply appreciative of the honor that my friends and family show my fallen comrades. They’re right. Freedom isn’t free. We pay for our freedom. We pay for it with our industry and our innovation. We pay for it with our compassion and our willingness to compromise in the name of the greater good. We pay for it with our commitment to pay attention to things that matter in service to exercising our democratic duties as Americans. Sometimes, when we must, we pay for it with the lives of our young men and women.   And so this weekend we honor them.

I would like to take our collective conscience a little further though, past honor and respect. Past gratitude, past reverence. This weekend I would like ask people to move past all of it and spend some time in conscious thought about what the cost of war is; the honest cost of war.  In our history, we have lost 1.2 million men and women to combat deaths. Of these dead, the logical majority were young people at the dawn of their membership in the brotherhood of mankind. The average age of the 58,220 Americans killed in Vietnam was 23.

What masterpieces of art, what forces of industry, what transcendent leaders and humanitarians were snuffed out well before their prime? What husbands and fathers, mothers and sons paid the ultimate bill for goods they never received? As has been the case through the ages, the youth pay dearly for the misgivings of our elders and their inability to find solutions without violent ends. In With the Old Breed, the most honest war book I’ve ever read, written by a true American hero who served in the hell of Okinawa and Peleliu, Eugene B. Sledge gave voice to our dead.

“I am the harvest of man’s stupidity. I am the fruit of the holocaust. I prayed like you to survive, but look at me now. It is over for us who are dead, but you must struggle, and will carry the memories all your life. People back home will wonder why you can’t forget.”

Freedom isn’t free. And so neither is war. Though we stand ready to fight to defend our freedom and our way of life, it’s not the only thing we fight for. We’ve fought for our security. We’ve fought for politics. We’ve fought for our economy. We’ve fought and sacrificed our countrymen for many things, not just freedom. In one of his earliest speeches of record, a 28-year old Abraham Lincoln captured a truth that 177 years later, when we’re honest with ourselves, we know to be true today.

At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

There’s still the same amount of ocean between us and anyone as when young Abe made his point. It has been a long time since American men and women have died to protect our freedom alone.

As for my generation of fighting men and women, we have a similar, yet different price to pay.  As it was for many of my graduating class from Annapolis, I was on my first deployment when this war started 14 years ago. Since then, over 8,000 men and women have lost their lives. And as callous as it sounds, that’s not a lot of death for 14 years of war. The American warrior is hard to kill these days. There’s another cost that we continue to pay out in much more subtle figures though.

After multiple deployments in the longest war in the history of our country, many continue to suffer the effects of long-term exposure to stress and trauma. Like a car stuck in drive, often the only peace for them comes when the tank is empty or they crash like my classmate Ben. Ben was a Marine Corps officer who served multiple deployments in Iraq. He took his own life this last March after suffering for over a decade with PTSD and depression. I didn’t know Ben well. I didn’t have to in order to know that he was the energy and light in every room he was in. Now that light is gone forever and the world is worse off for it.

For many of us, the environment we lived in put us in a state where we couldn’t stop chasing it. Every year at this time I am reminded of my friend and classmate Jeremy. Jeremy was a Force Recon Marine Corp Major with multiple hard deployments under his belt during the worst of the fighting Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeremy was a hell of a man. He was better than everyone at everything he ever did. If you knew him, you know what I mean. He died in a BASE jumping accident while on leave from the war. Jeremy was my friend and I miss him. He would have made a strong husband to a good woman or a mentoring father to a son or daughter. He’s gone now.  These are the more subtle costs of our modern war.  Less acute but somehow, more painful and cruel.

I am not a pacifist. I don’t believe that, as a nation, the activities of our military in the near past have been entirely in vain. I was a voluntary part of much of it. There are pictures of my teammates and medals on the wall of my den in the open for my kids to see and be proud of. I don’t wish that my country would lay down her arms and surrender the will to wage war in the name of our freedom, our interests or even our principles. I’m asking for something else. What I ask of my American brothers and sisters is that you take the time this weekend to consider something very important.

Ask yourself, when you formed your opinion about when and how our country should engage in armed conflict with foreign countries, did you put enough thought into it to bet someone else’s life on it? Have you truly taken the time to consider the honest cost of war? If you haven’t, try to spend a little time over the next few days to think about it. There are a few people I won’t be able to stop thinking about this weekend that you owe it to.