The stories are never ending. Men of any age arrive at their annual reunion with the company they served with in the war and it’s like they never were out of touch. Guys who played varsity basketball together and finished last will meet up and talk about the good old days. What these two situations have in common is brotherhood otherwise known as camaraderie. There is rarely any situation in everyday life that will give you the emotions you have when you go through certain conditions that have the effect war and sports does.
In 2003, a young man from Oregon enlisted in the US Marines. He was from a small town and hadn’t experienced very much in his young life. He was a solid boy/man at 18 years of age and wanted something more than what his parents had. So he left Oregon for San Diego and went through 13 weeks of life-changing hell. He went through this experience with 40 other 18-year old’s that also have left home for the first time. While in boot camp, the young man bonds with his fellow recruits. They have changed together and are different people than when they arrived. Then 3/4 of the recruits head to the same training after boot and learn how to be combat Marines. It is fun and excruciating. Invigorating and exhausting. The hardest and best thing they will ever do. When they get out of training, these boys have become brothers. Next up, Iraq. There are 12 of the original boot camp crew that are in the same squad when they are called to go on patrol. They are the tip of the spear. They go into the city of Ramadi, knocking down doors, going house to house, searching for terrorist. Some days are good with no contact. Others are bad with people shooting at them. Others are the worst of their lives when one of them dies after he steps on an IED. It would be like cutting off your arm, you’ve become so close to this brother. Whoever makes it back stateside will be best friends for life. They have been through so much together; boot camp, training, and combat. They have conquered and suffered together.
It is the same with sports. Not to the extent of war, but you go through an intense experience with a group of guys who are in the same boat. It’s paddle or sink. Do you know what the number one thing athletes say they miss after they have retired? It’s the locker room or “the room”. The room is where you go after a hard day of practice. The room is where you prepare for battle before the game, looking each other in the eye. This is where you are all in. These are the times you remember. You don’t get this while working on the same team at the office. There is nothing physical on the line and your teammates all got there through different channels. You’re not the same, so you don’t have the same things on the line. War and sports give men the chance to pledge something bigger than themselves. Their lives. You hear man after man say that after he did something heroic on the battlefield, “I did it for my brothers. I couldn’t let them down.”
Medal of Honor recipient, Cliff Romesha, distinguished himself on October 3, 2009, in the battle of Kamdesh. The battle lasted 14 hours. 8 Americans were killed and an additional 27 were wounded. During the battle, a wounded Staff Sgt. Romesha fought through an unrelenting barrage of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms fire to spearhead a counteroffensive and retrieve the bodies of his fallen comrades. He is credited with killing dozens of enemy soldiers. An estimated 150 Taliban had this US Army unit surrounded, deep in the Iraq mountains.
“Hero” is a tricky title, especially for those who bear it. Like many living Medal of Honor recipients, Romesha has struggled to reconcile the fame the award has brought him with the lives lost and permanently damaged when it was earned. In his upcoming memoir about the Battle of Kamdesh — titled “Red Platoon” — Romesha makes it explicitly clear what he’s been saying all along: His Medal of Honor wasn’t earned alone.
“I want people to understand that these were your average combat line platoon guys, not SEAL Team Six,” Romesha told Task & Purpose in an interview. “They came from all walks of life. They came from dysfunctional backgrounds, and drug addictions, and f-d up situations, for lack of a better term. And they were faced with pretty insurmountable odds at a certain point. They never gave up, no matter what the cost.”
This MoH recipient is the typical award winning soldier. It’s not about him, it’s about all of them. Together. Romesha typifies the soldier who has seen combat or the athlete who has left his blood and sweat on the floor. When you want to bring a smile to a man’s face, talk about his serving in the military or the team he played for in school. It’s what we live for.