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Happy Birthday

I turned 41 years old today. I'm out of town for an Army course at MacDill Air Force Base. So I decided to spend some time at the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) memorial. As my life continues its time on earth I can't help but think about how fortunate I am to have been blessed with the life that I have. That leads me to think about guys that I've known whose lives were cut short.

Ryan Garbs was 20 years old when he died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. I met him while in the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) in early 2006. After RIP we went to Bravo Company 3/75 together, along with two guys named Benz and Palermo. Garbs went to 1st platoon, Palermo went to 2nd platoon, and Benz and I went to 3rd platoon. I was in mountain phase of Ranger School when I heard the bad news.

Ben Dillon was 22 years old when he was killed by enemy fire in Iraq in 2007. I have a memory of him working out by himself in Ramadi on my first deployment in 2006. Ben was in 2B (2nd Platoon). He was working on push ups and sit ups in preparation to go to Ranger School when we got home. My platoon was in Afghanistan, on "old BAF" when 1SG Ballesteros told us the bad news.

William Rudd was 27 years old and my one of my closest friends when he died from a gunshot wound in Iraq. I have a lot of memories of him, we did just about everything together from early 2008 until his death on 5 October. His funeral and drive to his grave sight was something so moving, that few people will ever experience it.

Ryan McGhee was 21 years old when he was killed by enemy fire in Iraq. He was such a genuine kid. He lived on the 3rd floor of Building 2937 with the rest of us in 3rd platoon and would come to my room sometimes to talk about work. One time I was trying to take a nap and ignored the door, even though I knew it was him. I'd love to have a talk one more time. I wish he could have lived just a few years longer, he was too young and innocent to die.

James Patton was 23 years old when he was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. He was already a husband and father. A squad leader at just 23 years old with a bright future. When I was 23, I was a fifth year senior in college, drinking cold beer and chasing hot women. Jimmy Patton was on an operation to kill the #1 Al Qaeda leader in Iraq when he died at 23.

Anibal Santiago was 37 years old when he died in Afghanistan. He was ancient in Ranger years, had already had two previous lives as a cop and as a Sailor. He was the first guy to introduce me to CrossFit. Also the first guy to let me shoot a sniper rifle at our camp on Baghdad International Airport. I wish I would have hung out with him more, didn't know what I was missing.

Andrew Nicol was 23 years old when he died from and improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He had a few friends who were closer, but we were good fuckin buds at the time of his death. I'm with him in his Facebook

picture, still. The thing that bothers me the most about him dying is that I wasn't there when it happened. We assaulted so many targets together, I can't help but think it would have been different if I was there.

Bradley Rappuhn was 24 years old when he died from the same improvised explosive device that killed Nicol. He was a squad automatic weapon (SAW) gunner, and in my mind, what every SAW gunner should be compared to. He was the definition of gritty, would rather die than let his friends down. He was with his team leader when he died. Never shall I fail my comrades.

My life can be separated into two parts; the days before these men were killed and the days after. There have been many Rangers killed since then, but I did not know them the way that I knew these men. Christopher Celiz is a guy that reminds me of Anibal Santiago, someone that you wish you had spent more time with, because they were such good dudes and so unique in their own way. A one of a kind type of man that we take for granted.

I'm grateful that I wasn't searching for more names on that wall. My mind drifts back to a few near misses over the years. Like when our platoon medic nearly had his arm severed by an RPK round, changing his life forever. Or when one of our squad leaders lost three of his limbs but refused to die, obviously changing his life forever, but somehow still being alive more than most Americans. Time marches on for most of us, we're left with only memories and stories. But for some of us, time is is tied to a specific day, times when we were present and alive with these young men - and then the time that has passed since they left us.

Written for our Gold Star Families.

Andrew Nicol and me, 2009 at Atlanta motor speedway.

Ryan McGee upon returning home from his first deployment to Afghanistan, 2007.

Ryan was a private in Weapons Squad, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion. He was a Team Leader in Delta Company when he was KIA in 2009.

Our Platoon Sergeant made sure we sent good dudes to Delta Company as "plank holders."

Andrew Nicol receiving his Combat Infantryman Badge in early 2008, after a deployment to Afghanistan.

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