Good morning, my name is Matt H and my daughter, is one of your 8th grade classmates. Last December, I retired from the Navy after serving 23 years of combined active and reserve service as a Navy SEAL. I am a combat veteran having served in the city of Ramadi, Iraq where I earned the Bronze Star Medal for Valor.
I joined the military for a few reasons. First of all, both of my parents are veterans. But more than just that, I wanted to become a Navy SEAL because of the adventure and noble purpose that it promised. Through those years, I've jumped out of airplanes at night over the ocean, treated young children in Africa for malaria, spent five weeks living in the jungle along the Panama Canal, planted limpet mines on the bottom of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the night, and led the ambush of four suicide bombers.
I also wanted to be able to look anyone in the eye and tell him, “Yes, I served my country.” It may be difficult to understand now, but believe me when I tell you that you will absolutely derive more joy and personal satisfaction from doing something for someone else than you ever will by simply doing things for your own benefit.
Serving also means that you come to understand that you are not as important as the team or the platoon. Recognizing that the goal of the unit is more important that your individual success, allows you to form very close bonds with those around you. This also helps you to become the most important kind of person that there is in this world. A reliable one. No talent or skill will take you very far if you cannot be counted upon. Becoming a reliable friend, student, employee, or even CEO starts with understanding your true value to an organization, not its value to you.
Nearly every day as I face life and the many challenges that it involves, I look back on my SEAL training experience and know that nothing that I will ever do will be any more difficult than that. This is a powerful source of self-confidence and resilience that I can draw from at any time. This power is not limited to Navy SEALs either. All of us Veterans have had to face extreme challenges during our duty, and they have made us stronger. My service taught me not to fear challenge, but to embrace it because I know that each time I overcome something, I become stronger for it.
Last year when a local congressman spoke to you on Veteran’s Day I believe that there was a lot of confusion. When my daughter came home that day, she told me that a few of her classmates asked her questions about me like, “Is your dad dead?” and “Does he have a job?” Aside from the clear insensitivity of questions such as these, I felt that there surely are many more unanswered questions from last year.
Before I left for Iraq, I thought long and hard about what could happen to me there that could change me in a way that would be harmful. I thought that there were three things that could happen and that I had control over only two of them. First, was that if I faced a dire combat situation and acted in a cowardly manner, the shame of that would never leave me. Second, that if during combat, I was to shoot or be responsible for the death of someone innocent that would leave a lasting scar on my heart. And third, that if I were to witness an especially gruesome situation where my comrades suffered or died painfully that those visions would haunt me.
So before I left, I prayed and I asked God to protect my heart from those things, and He did. But where I was blessed, many of my comrades were not. Many do suffer from one or more of those afflictions, and it can be difficult to recover from it. This is why the one question that you should NEVER ask a Veteran is, “How many people have you killed?” This is a deeply personal matter, and one that you have no right to the answer. As Veterans, we are entitled to your respect, but I also ask you to give Veterans your compassion as well. All of us have accepted the safety of America as a personal responsibility and have made sacrifices on your behalf. Veterans are not victims, we are your protectors, and perhaps someday, some of you might step forward and accept that responsibility for yourselves.