Wounded warriors give inspirational view of courage

  • Published
  • By Col. Greg Touhill
  • 81st Training Wing commander
Last week I had the opportunity to meet men and women of courage. I visited the Center for the Intrepid at the Brooke Army Medical Center and met fellow Americans who have been disabled by both combat and non-combat related injuries.

Meeting these young airmen, soldiers, sailors, and marines was phenomenal. I have to admit that when I entered the facility I was nervous. What do you say to a young man or woman who has just lost a limb in combat? What do you say to the person who has been disfigured by painful burns?

I found the best thing to say is "thank you" and listen to them.

In spending several hours with these great men and women and their terrific caregivers, I learned what courage is all about. Much has been written about "courage under fire" and each of the people I met had incredible stories of their personal ordeals and courage. Ironically, they never mentioned their own courage. Rather, they made sure I knew about the courage of their buddies in saving their lives, the courage of the aeromedical teams in getting them home, the courage of their doctors, nurses, and therapists in aiding their recovery, and the courage of their families in nurturing them. In their selfless nature, I found the meaning of "courage after fire."

I also learned from them what their expectation of courage is and it is something I want to share with you. I chatted with two young sergeants, both of whom had lost their legs in combat. One is a year older than my son, the other three years older. I thanked them for their service and sacrifice and told them how I admired their courage. Each laughed and said they didn't think they were courageous. Frankly, I disagreed and asked them what they thought courage was and was surprised by their wisdom.

Courage, they said, is having the fortitude to stand up for what is right when everyone else is afraid. Courage is asking that question that everyone means to ask, but is afraid to for fear of embarrassment. Courage is correcting a friend when they are wrong. Courage is telling your boss you disagree and explaining why. Courage is attacking a problem when there is a possibility of failing, but you do it anyway because if you don't, nobody will. They said they saw courage in others on the battlefield but not in themselves. Strikingly, they added they wished they saw more examples of courage in daily life.

Wow. To me, these young men defined courage in so many ways yet they themselves didn't see themselves as courageous. Rather, they saw themselves as facing a challenge ... another foe to be defeated ... and yet their definition of courage was focused on the rest of us. They are inspirational. Are you courageous? Are you doing the right thing even when nobody is looking? Are you committed to being the best? Are you focused on customer service to help others? Other Americans like those in the Center for the Intrepid have sacrificed so much for us. Let us honor them by being courageous every day in all we do.