Author's Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are my own and are not representative of the U.S. Military and/or Department of Defense as a whole. All sources used were unclassified.
I used to hate this picture.
Every day, every terrible day after I got back from my 2009 deployment to Afghanistan, I had to walk by this monument. Some days, I tried not to acknowledge its existence, avoiding eye contact at all costs.
Every day it ambushed me, letting me know it was still there. Letting me know it wasn't leaving.
Some days I would take a different entrance into the building where I worked so I could avoid the thoughts and the memories of the friends who were taken from me. The "what if" scenarios replayed in my mind like a bad movie that I wish I hadn't bought a ticket to see.
These are scenes from my first day in combat, filmed by Danfung Dennis, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2012 for his documentation of our deployment.
Still, the monument was there. Taunting me as I went into work each day. I started to wonder if I was the only one who felt that way.
I mean, something is wrong with me right? I should be happy that I came back. I should be happy that we have this beautiful monument to our fallen brothers. I should be happy that Mr. Dennis is being nominated for an Academy Award.
But the simple truth was, I was not happy.
I wanted answers. I wanted to know why I came back, and why they didn't. I wanted to know why I felt like I did not deserve to be happy, why I didn't deserve to have a full and rich life. At this stage, I felt the full force of guilt crashing down on top of me. The perfect storm isn't the right reference, but it's the first one that comes to mind.
This is my grandfather in 1943, a year before he ran up on the beaches of Normandy to fight the Nazis who had control of France at the time. He made his way through the blood-soaked beaches and eventually fought the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last stand against the allies.
I started to wonder if this old Army veteran who would not talk much about D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge had any advice for me. A new generation of people have seen the horrors of war.
"It's not about you anymore... It's about them."
The answer was simple and blunt. He said it was my duty — my responsibility — to my Marines to live life to the fullest in their honor. To remember their deeds. To remind people of the sacrifices they and their families made. To never forget what brave men and women we have in this country who will tear themselves apart to fight for the person on their left and on their right.
That conversation had a profound impact on my life after the deployment of 2009. In a time when I felt anger, bitterness, and resentment, the advice my grandfather bestowed upon me was life changing.
So the most important thing for Veterans is simple. LIVE! Live your life. If you are struggling like I was, seek help, because its not about us — it's about them. We are our fallen brothers' living legacy.