Master Sgt. Kelly L. Hornbeck passed away on January 18, 2004 — two days after an improvised explosive device detonated during a combat patrol in northern Iraq and decimated the frontal lobes of his brain. I will be wearing Kelly’s memorial bracelet this Memorial Day, as I do every day, and praying for his daughters and other family members he left behind. As the fifteenth anniversary of September 11 draws near, hundreds of Special Forces operators still find themselves in Afghanistan, Syria, or one of the 90 other countries in which Green Berets are deployed at any given time. These members of the Special Forces Regiment, America’s only Unconventional Warfare force, will be carrying out lengthy training missions and living in austere conditions, often with no or limited electrical power and running water. Hot showers are a rare luxury. Life during deployment can be perpetual boredom interspersed by moments of sheer terror and carnage. Many Americans may be tired of armed conflict, but less than one percent of them will ever find themselves in remote proximity to a combat zone. This war is not going away. Extremism is not going away. We have already been fighting radical Islamic terrorism for decades. Our children and grandchildren will be fighting radical Islamic terrorism for decades to come. Maintaining a persistent presence and persistent engagement with our allies abroad is the only way to protect our way of life and contain those who threaten it. This is where the Green Berets make a difference. A twelve-man force is often responsible for training 1,000 or more foreign allied combatants. While Special Operations forces use their multilingualism, intimate understanding of other cultures, exceptional intelligence, and adaptability to prepare allied forces for battle, Green Berets serve as much more than a force-multiplier. Often having to accompany the foreign fighter trainees on missions, Green Berets are deployed and exposed to live combat at higher rates than any other branch of the military. As a result, the Green Beret community’s rate of injury and death toll continue to mount year by year, because Green Berets are trained to refuse surrender until they complete the mission. Until they annihilate the enemy’s threat. Yet so few Americans understand the immense sacrifice undertaken by one of the most elite, rigorously trained, and patriotic group of men in the world. This Memorial Day, the Green Berets deployed overseas will not have time to sit and remember the sacrifices of war’s past. Sacrifices that allowed America to withstand German and Japanese domination during World War II; sacrifices that kept Communist forces at bay in the 1960s; sacrifices that are still necessary to stymie the spread of radicalism and caliphate desired by the Islamic State. Memorial Day does not exist for active Green Berets, because America’s past struggle for freedom is their present. If you enjoy being able to speak your mind publicly and practice (or abstain from practicing) the religion of your choice, please think of this Memorial Day as more than a beachside, grill-side day off from work. Attend a local ceremony; thank a veteran; reach out to the family of a deployed or wounded service member. Above all, educate your children, friends and neighbors about the significance of the day and its honorees. Remember the Green Berets who died defending our freedom, but also keep in mind those who return to the United States, rejoin their families, and transition to become leaders in whatever career field they choose to pursue. It is time to engage with those who continue to engage, defend, and sacrifice. Memory is not sufficient this Memorial Day. Take action. -Major General (Ret.) David A. Morris is the chairman of the Green Beret Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that provides immediate financial assistance to Green Berets who are injured in the line of duty, to their families, and to the families of our fallen brothers. Gen. Morris served for over 36 years of active and reserve duty, with multiple deployments in Latin America and the Middle East. He is a highly decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror, having served in various capacities in Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and as a civilian in several roles within the intelligence community.
Well said, General. MSG Kelly L. Hornbeck, whom MG Morris just talked about, was with the 10th Special Forces Group here in Colorado at Ft. Carson; a place I’ve spent a lot of time at. As someone who has been deployed to a combat theater myself, I share MG Hornbeck’s sentiments. Please take a moment today and maybe visit a national cemetery, talk to someone who has served in combat…or even a family who has lost someone in any combat theater. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for grilling.. But, that’s not why this federal holiday exists. Remember that..and, again, thank some combat vet, or his/her family that they left behind, for being able to have this day off to grill and go to the pool. Happy Memorial Day! 🙂