published : 2023-11-11

I helped lead the 'Pineapple Express.' Vets, military family members, this message is for you

I know that civilian life is incredibly stressful and sometimes you fee like a stranger in your own country. Stick with me. I've got something to share

A photo of a group of veterans standing in front of an American flag, showing their unity and pride in their service. (Taken with Nikon D850)

It's been just over two years since our little group of volunteers helped rescue 750 Afghan Allies in Operation Pineapple Express.

There is now a growing mental health crisis within our veteran community.

I had a senior non-commissioned officer who had been part of Task Force Pineapple tell me he wonders if his service was worth it.

"The whole country has forgotten what happened. What's the point?" he said staring off in the distance.

Here's a guy with multiple deployments, who's endured more personal and professional hardship, seen more violence and more struggle than almost anyone I know of, and yet he feels like a stranger in his own country.

As veterans and military families, how do we find relevance when it seems our nation has turned the page on our service?

How do we find our place?

Since those towers fell on 9/11/2001, it's been the longest war in our nation's history.

There are servicemembers with 10 deployments under their belt.

Our military families have never endured anything like this.

It's tough.

When you look beyond the military, the economy that's still struggling, the job opportunities that seem almost non-existent sometimes, and the fact that you have to run missions and deploy all the way up to the finish line, you don't even have time to think about life after the military.

Those things combine to make civilian life extremely stressful, extremely hard on the family, hard on you.

Well, I'm going to ask you to step back just for a second.

Take a breath.

This is not the way that you would come at a military mission, and it's not the way to come at transition.

Instead, think about your first day in the military.

When your drill instructor threw trash cans down the hallway, and when everything around you was in chaos.

Why were you inwardly smiling? What made you know that you were right where you belonged?

Now, think back to the worst day in the military.

The day you buried your buddy.

A bad firefight.

A photo of a military family embracing each other, highlighting the love and support they provide to the veterans in their lives. (Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

Perhaps you got in trouble in your unit.

But when all the logic in your mind was screaming insider your mind to leave, what kept you around?

What compelled you to continue to serve?

And finally, fast forward 20 years from now.

Your little granddaughter sits on your leg.

She looks up at you and she asks you what it was like in the military.

What are you going to tell her?

How will you convey just how special that time, and those people were in your life?

In the quiet moments at night -- when you're still -- what is it that gives you the most pride about your military service?

Those answers: service above self, love of country, teammates who are all green, never quitting...that's who you really are.

That doesn't change just because you transition, or public opinion changes, or because you take off the uniform.

No, that's who you are.

I've seen what you did in these dark places.

I've witnessed your sacrifice.

I've seen the loyalty and the courage firsthand, on the battlefield.

I've stood in awe of your problem-solving skills in the face of insurmountable challenges.

Do you really think that you ran all those miles and endured all those hardships, got scuffed up like you did, just so you can fade away?

Hell no.

That's not who you are.

This Veterans Day, and every day, America needs you, and she needs the qualities in you more than ever before.

She's in trouble.

Look at how our politicians are behaving.

A photo of a homeless veteran receiving assistance from a volunteer organization, emphasizing the importance of helping those in need. (Taken with Sony Alpha a7 III)

Look at the state that our schools are in.

Look at our communities fracturing along tribal lines.

We need you and moral compass that you've developed over these years more than ever.

And I'm going to tell you something else.

You're not alone on this civilian mission.

You're not alone on this mission any more than you've been alone on any other mission.

Your teammates are right there beside you.

They may not be the exact same teammates that you had when you served, but they're with you just the same.

But you must reach out to them.

Look, you've put your dreams on hold for years, so that others could realize their dreams.

Now it's time to hold your dreams up.

Put them out there.

Follow them without permission.

Lead us.

Lead my children into a better future.

We need you.

We can't allow you to fade away because if you fade away...we'll fade away.

Nobody is coming.

This is your time.

This is your Pineapple Express.