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Friday, February 25, 2011

Heroes

By David "Jager" Burnell 
Founder and CEO, OPSGEAR®

According to the dictionary a hero is: a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

For me this word has a few meanings that may relate to the official definition, but more importantly to me identifies a few actual faces.

I have personally been on hundreds of 911 trauma calls where lives hung in the balance off cliffs, open water, frozen lakes and burning structures. I am reminded of one of my very best friends from the Dive Rescue team and our annual “Ice Diving” certification. We were required annually to perform two under the ice dives and stay on the bottom for 10-15 minutes to maintain certification. Certified to do what you may ask? Certified to go under an ice shelf where the dead and dying are waiting to be brought home to family and loved ones. Certified to reach deep into an abyss alone as a single diver tethered on a line that is all that separates you in a zero visibility “black water” environment from the warmth and safety of the surface and natural air.


My good buddy and fellow diver would perform his annual dives with great courage and faith that if anything happened I would be there for him. He was right. Beyond that thought though is where the correlation to the word “Hero” comes in to me. My buddy did not like the water much. He performed his dives to do good and to make a difference because he believed then and still does now as a Captain in a full time fire department that saving lives is a worthy risk and comes before personal comfort or safety. Seeing him go into the water year after year in every environment from swift water to under the ice taught me the word hero in a more direct and less glamorous way. Doing the hard thing when no one else is present for a noble cause is being a hero in my book. Performing dangerous missions in training or under real word conditions when you are scared is being a hero. As a Public Safety Scuba Instructor I witnessed this humble behavior for many years and on many actual recovery calls. Never during these events did anyone in my circle use the word hero to define themselves... In fact tradition is that if you are caught in the news paper or singled out on TV you may be responsible to by drinks, shakes or dinner for ALL those who were on the call. This was just another way of keeping everyone in the mindset that a “Team” is more powerful than the individual. Nevertheless these men and women in my book were and are defined as true heroes.

Another humble and simple example is the voice of a four year old child to a veteran mother “you're the hero mom”. When ever I think of this or contemplate the context of those speaking and hearing it I get a little teary eyed. The little girl is right that her mother is a hero in every sense of the word. Risking it all, committed while aware of the danger and bold to speak out the things she believes in.

Often the “Hero” will deflect the attention. Some may think this is casual banter and perhaps superficial humility. To me it is the fact that if one acknowledges the hero word, they deny all the other critical participants that were present during the mission, operation, rescue or recovery. Perhaps they just do not want to buy a round of shakes for the team :) either way the dead in many cases are truly the heroes because they voted with their life and the vote was cashed in.

As I write this at my desk and in the company of many real bona fide heroes I can’t help but reflect on my long time buddy and fellow instructor in the Urban Warfare Center® “Bravo.” He was recognized for valor in Afghanistan at 12,000 feet while he and one other soldier assaulted a fixed mortar position and a bunker successfully. A-10 warthogs had attempted gun runs to suppress the threats, but because of the terrain and conditions they could not deliver their guns or bombs. A-10 pilots of all aviators are never unwilling to drop bombs... this place was hardcore. It finally took an old fashion assault of two guys with courage breathing heavy at altitude to unseat the mortar and the bunker. This kind of hero will say “I was just doing my job.” In fact as I spoke briefly with Bravo today thats exactly what he said.

Doing one's “job” is fine when you work at a lumber yard, restaurant or bakery. But when you carry a weapon in hostile terrain “doing your job” means killing, saving or anything else required to get you and the others home. It is by its very nature “above and beyond.”

While I sat in the basement of his parents a year or so after he came back from a very violent tour of Afghanistan I learned that he had not told his parents about his medal with a “V” for valor. I explained to them that he had been formally recognized for his contribution in a remote region of the world and he should tell them the story. Truth be told he did. He of course left out some of the more weighty parts of it as only another warrior would understand the complexities of taking lives to save them.

My father would leave our home in a little city outside of Los Angeles every day for 24 years and strap on his gun and leather to fight an ever increasing wave of crime as a policeman with LAPD. I witnessed this day in and day out knowing that he risked his life each time. This reality was brought home any time a graduating classmate or a partner of his were killed in the line of duty.

My dad is one of the most humble and simple men you will ever meet. He would never call attention to himself, especially if it was implied that he was a “hero.” He caught the number one bad guy on the top ten list in the 1960s and was given a bottle of champaign that sat on our shelf for 25 years. He saved lives and dealt justice to the bad guys. He is one of many of my personal heroes.

Heroes come in every color, shape, size, gender and walk of life. It can be the civilian who decides not to sit idly by and let someone else be victimized. It can be a kid saving another kid from drowning. The true mark of a hero is the person who has a steep and deep value system and lives a life based on liberty, involvement and protection of those very rights at the cost of popularity, safety, fortune and even life.

To all those “heroes” who read this article I (we) at OPSGEAR® say THANK YOU and may God Bless and keep you always safe. To all those who cannot read this and are forever gone, we think of you and salute you this day.