by Andy Weddington
Tuesday, 19 September 2017
I think the sidekick makes the number one look good. Jacob Batalon
In a downtown Seattle hotel ballroom Friday evening past, after taking a seat at a round table for eight for an informal buffet, I met the wife of a SEAL.
I have some SEAL friends and know, somewhat, their stories.
So I listened to this stranger. Carefully. There was a compelling tone to her words. No comments from me. But what she said during the brief time stayed with me that night.
In the same ballroom the next morning I (and my wife) was seated at a front table with six strangers - five Sailors and an Airman; all at least a decade my junior.
All had been deployed. Some to dangerous areas.
Shortly after the kickoff a trio, from another table in the back of the room, was introduced and welcomed to the stage.
I recognized one - the woman.
The SEAL, with another sidekick, took the podium.
Clad in suit and though with beard and hair longer than standards he (still) carried himself with that air of confidence common to military folk.
I noticed the miniature trident on his lapel.
Not his first public appearance, he spoke not from notes but from the heart - about what he lived, survived, and, with the help of his sidekicks, is still conquering.
A man with a compelling story does not need a polished presentation. In fact, too slick would be less edge-of-the-seat interesting.
He was more than interesting.
In November 2010, on his 12th combat deployment (yes, 12th - this one Afghanistan), surrounded by and fighting enemy for over a month, a grenade seriously wounded a teammate (whom he tended to) and, as it turned out, him.
A small fragment struck him in the head.
What seemed insignificant and was not incapacitating proved, with time, an incapacitating injury.
He finished the deployment.
He described - his head injury still bleeding after six months; not feeling himself but medical tests that were "normal"; confusion; memory problems; hair-trigger anger over nothing; headaches; etc.
The short of a long, difficult story, including hospitalized a couple of years, is he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, depression, and post-concussion migraines.
His wife and five children needed him. To heal, he needed them. And they were determined, despite some professional advice, to remain a family.
Along came a(nother) sidekick, a golden retriever (service dog) he was asked to help train for another veteran.
Admittedly paranoid and though first suspect believing introduction of the dog a ploy, he agreed.
SEAL and dog bonded.
In short order signs of recovery - restful sleep; less meds; better cognition; positive attitude; etc., and improving home life.
As his story goes, his dog was trained by a Sailor - a corpsman.
That corpsman named the dog for a fellow corpsman who was killed in Afghanistan while in combat with Marines (from my old regiment - 6th Marines). Small world.
He spoke a little more than 30 minutes.
To understand his ordeal possible.
To fully comprehend his (and particularly family) selfless service and sacrifices, especially these past seven years, impossible.
He thanked the crowd for listening then turned the mic over to his wife.
Her remarks, too, impromptu - heartfelt and compelling. Gut-wrenching, at times.
She, every bit the fighter her husband, was determined to keep their family together.
For their sidekick, that realized.
She concluded and likewise thanked the crowd.
The trio left the stage as humbly as they took it but to standing ovation.
After, during a break, I spent about 15 minutes speaking with the SEAL.
His humility, strength, gratitude, and determination impressive. As was his sense of humor, despite the hell he has endured.
Of course this is but one war story amongst countless with many untold - to a citizenry that should hear them. Because should our country ever cease to produce such remarkable men and women, (and dogs), we are done for.
For them other (lesser, in some minds) citizens, mistakenly believed warriors hailed heroes, can sit before our colors and during our national anthem - which some (Seattle) Seahawks, de facto dogs, have done.
In closing ...
True, Mr. Batalon, true. But this SEAL's sidekicks did more than make him look good. They made him good. They made, and still make, him better.
And they, for life, deserve whatever they need from our country.
Since not deciding to write this commentary until after departing Seattle thus not clearing (with them) to use names I opted to not. But their story is in the public arena.
Take a moment, one link: