Everyone has an answer to the simple question: Why did you join the Army? The answer is far more complex and often times is touching and compelling, true to the character of our nation. Most of all, it is restorative to those who may have doubts about our nation and its greatness by offering a sense of inner peace in the perpetuity of our nation.
The narrative that was most poignant in my soul was that of Major Sandra Mason, or “Mom” as I affectionately refer to her as, who served as a military assistant and my direct supervisor within the Department of Defense. Major Mason was a strong woman of faith and conviction, always ready to offer encouragement and kindness, and ready to adopt any “young kid” she encountered. Last summer, I was blessed to be the kid in her life. Halfway into my position, I casually inquired Major Mason why she had joined- - the story she told I will never forget.
"Son" and "Mom," Summer 2010 at the Pentagon
Upon graduating from Our Lady of the Lake University with a Masters of Social work and motivated and inspired by her father, a retired Army Tech Sergeant, as well as her conviction to serve, Major Mason, then 2LT Mason, commissioned into the Texas Army National Guard as a Medical Services Officer. She deployed to Afghanistan and served with valor, returning home to work at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas as a Counselor Advocate.
Often times, we ask “why did you join” and our answers are manifested in a quick reaction but the question, “what inspires you to be a member of our armed forces”, those are the furthering questions that really scrutinize the inner root of one’s decision. It is here where Major Mason’s story takes root.
While working at Brooke Army Medical Center, Major Mason had the opportunity to take care of Sgt. Merlin German and assist his family. Sgt. German had burn injuries to over 95 percent of his body due to an IED attack in Iraq. His initial prognosis had been harrowing but through nine months and over a 100 operations he survived.
And through the heartaches and struggles, Major Mason witnessed the very essence of the human struggle for life as well as the beauty of life restored. Sgt. German began to gain a nickname on post - - ‘Miracle Marine’. Major Mason tearfully recalled that after 17 months, Sgt. German was able to leave the hospital to stay at the Fisher House with his family who had been through the pain and suffering, and the utter triumph, together.
Sgt. German learned to live with pain and to stare at a stranger's face in the mirror. He learned to smile again, to joke, and to make others laugh. But that wasn’t enough for the Miracle Marine; he decided to start a non-profit to help burn victims, particularly for burn victims who were children.
In spring 2008, just when the doctors had begun to declare the culmination of his triumph, Sgt. Merlin German, USMC, lost his battle.
Major Mason ended her story with tears in her eyes. This narrative and the hundreds like it inspired her to come to work every morning and give it her best. It was her love and passion for our wounded warriors, especially those who struggled to return to society after their service, which allowed her to take solace even after witnessing the horror that is war.
She then turned back to her work and I did to mine. But there was this poignant silence, broken only by the silent rapid clicking on the keyboard, which held within the office. Sgt. German’s story is one of many narratives. A Tech Sergeant, who was also severely burned in Iraq due to an IED, also described the pain and suffering of surgeries and his fight to overcome the odds. His simple desire - - I want to be there for my son.
The Tech Sergeant was worried that his three year old son would be afraid of his appearance but as soon as he arrived home, his son ran to him and embraced him. The Sergeant tearfully stated that this was the best feeling in the world. When others told him he was a hero, he replied: “I was just doing my job. I just don’t see myself as a hero”.
This is our impetus to serve and the essence of our nation. It is that spirit to not give in to a definite negative prognosis but to fight with our very will and essence. It is why I am convinced that although my generation will face the greatest challenges our nation has witnessed since the post World War II era, we will also find our greatest triumphs. It is time to step into our role as the next greatest generation. We already have the essential foundation - - heroes.
Your Fellow American,Karthik
This is Part 1 of 2 of a new blog series “The Next Greatest Generation”. My next blog will be covering the story of Megan and Ashley Bunce who began their own non-profit, Grateful Nation, in response to their Marine brother’s injury while serving in Iraq.
For more information on today’s story, please see the following articles: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-05-24-miracle-marine_N.htm
Fisher House is a non-profit that Major Mason referred to in the piece. More information can be found here:http://www.fisherhouse.org/
I am blessed to be in Colorado but I am most blessed because I have the absolute honor of calling myself an American. My mother and father are my inspiration. My father dreamt of coming to America and conferred with his family about his desire. His sister agreed to sell her gold to purchase a ticket for the young couple to come to America in addition to some spending money - -one hundred dollars. They started their life in the mire of desperation and poverty in one room of a terrible apartment in Brooklyn, New York City, where I was born.
Editor: Karthik Venkatraj is completing a John Jay Fellowship, a postgraduate year helping prepare young Americans for public service on biblical foundations, in the tradition of our nation's first Chief Justice and a co-author of the Federalist Papers, John Jay. We're delighted that he will be interning with us at Centennial Institute this semester and contributing frequently to '76 Blog. This post responds to my request for Karthik to introduce himself to our readers - John Andrews
Eventually, my father found a job in the subways of New York City ferrying x-rays between hospitals and my mother found a job as a nurse’s aide in a busy Manhattan hospital. Ten years later, my father would be graduating from New York University as a PhD in Molecular Biology and my mother would be finishing her M.D. and working at the Oncology Ward in Albert Einstein Hospital. This position was a far cry from their struggle to make ends meet each month as well as raise a child. Indeed, I can distinctly remember the culmination of a month’s paycheck in a splurge of eight dollars at a run-down Chinese buffet in Brooklyn.
Their narrative can be found in no other nation, their ability to succeed can be predicated on no other ideals than those of America. My parents ensured their children were cognizant of their narrative and of the greatness that is our nation; thus, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise when I raised my right hand to pledge defend our nation against all enemies. In response to the attacks of September 11th, I decided to enlist in the Army National Guard and soon entered the ROTC program at Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets in addition to serving within the Texas Army National Guard Armor Squadron.
In five years, I would be appointed to serve within the Pentagon under the Bush Administration, travel on a diplomatic mission with the Army to my parent’s homeland of India, study Arabic with the Army in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, serve as an appointee to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and graduate as one of two distinguished military graduates from the largest commissioning program in the nation outside of the service academies.
Once again, this narrative would be possible in no other country, within the context of any other ideals than that of our nation. But the ideals that informed and propelled my narrative and that of my parents were not based in the progressive thought dominating our nation’s modern political landscape but hearkens to those debates in the Continental Congress of Philadelphia, in the impassioned petitions of John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison within the Federalist Papers, within the Declaration of Independence, and within the Constitution of 1787.
And that is why I am here at Centennial Institute, because I want a better nation for my children and their children, a nation with values and a solid moral compass. I am here because I am convicted that it is the duty of all Americans to preserve our republic and I am very concerned that we are losing that duty. I, like most Americans, do not want to see an America of 2076 as an irrelevant nation that has passed the torch of global leadership to another country but as a nation renewed and convicted in its role as a global leader.
Above all, I am a concerned American who wants to foster a revival of the Spirit of 1776 in our nation - - a spirit that created what is now known as the greatest experiment that the world has ever witnessed, that of our democracy. Let us not be naïve to see that our nation has great challenges ahead of her; an enormous deficit that seems insurmountable, a war on multiple fronts with a virulent and violent enemy, failing schools struggling to compete on a global scale, a sluggish economy as well as a rising unemployment rate, a society mired in a degradation of traditional values, and a government unresponsive to common sense approaches. I will stop here because our role is not to merely articulate a litany of issues but to find solutions to them. Indeed, the state of our democracy is predicated on our search.
Some may ask: “Where is the Spirit of 1776? Where is our nation going?” I would answer that the Spirit of 1776 is here: it’s in the coffee shops and diners, it’s in dinnertime conversations of families, it’s in the workers of a coal mine punching in, it’s in the ranches and farms of rural America, in the junior baseball leagues, in our servicemen and women, in the pastors writing their sermon for their Sunday service. In short, the Spirit is in you, it’s in all Americans who love and care for our republic. The way this spirit will manifest and direct our people will determine 2076. Let us not forget the absolute providence that has guided our nation since its conception and to this point in our nation’s history. Let us take solace in the fact that this spirit, properly guided and convicted, in conjunction with providence has and will always lead to miraculous events and glorious beginnings.
My name is Karthik Venkatraj and I am a concerned American, analyzing and revering our past but looking at our future. I take solace in the fact that there are millions of Americans like me, who want America to not only see another centennial but to see its best centennial ever. I believe in the inherent goodness and exceptionalism of our nation and its people and I look forward to our progression towards a better America together. As we say in the military, it’s something worth fighting for.
Your fellow patriot,Karthik