Updated: Apr 2, 2018
Today is April 1st, 2018. For many people around the world it is the day to celebrate the rising of Christ which is also known as Easter Sunday. To those who celebrate, Happy Easter to you and yours. For others it is a day of jokes and pranks as it is also April Fool's Day. To those who prank, don't go too far. Then there are the people who today is just another day in a long line of days. To you all, good Sunday. Then there is me on this 1st day of April. Yes, I will have an Easter lunch and basket with my family because my wife celebrates every holiday there is that she is aware of celebrating. No, I am not a follower of a faith but I respect the beliefs of others as they celebrate Jesus Christ and their respective faiths. I will not prank anyone today because I have never found pranks worth the hassle and people go to far in most cases. In most ways today would be my only day off from work, which I use that term loosely since I teach dance fitness classes for a living, yet I am grateful for a do nothing day. Today, for me, is not just Easter Sunday or April Fool's Day but it is a day of a different type of remembrance. Today, is the day I got the call.
This picture was taken a few years back in the Retsil Veteran's Cemetery on day 22 of my 22 push-up a day challenge to raise awareness for Veteran suicides. In case you did not know 22 veterans commit suicide a day. My last video was in a place where men and women who have served this country lay. I thought it was fitting to be with them as I spoke of the sadness of veteran suicide. We should never go out this way especially those who served. Especially for those who lost their lives on battle fields across this globe which brings me to what April 1st means to me.
April 1st, 2011 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan around 0400 I got the final confirmation that Army Spc Dennis Poulin had succumb to his injuries from a rollover accident. This kid, who I would not be able to pick out of line up if you paid me a million dollars to do so, would forever walk with me. I, with 4 others, carried him onto a medical bird so that he could be taken to Germany so his family could say good-bye. There was zero chance he would live without the life support that had kept him alive at that point. I was responsible for getting the information for my unit. I made calls all night to talk to the hospital once he arrived. I spent hours contacting another soldiers wife to tell her that his (the other soldier) head injury was not life threatening and he should return to Kunar within a few days. This was my job and, to be frank, it wasn't the best part of it. April 1st I relayed the message to Lt Goble that Spc Poulin was pronounced deceased.
Today, for me and many others, is about the memory of the people who no longer have the ability to do what I can. The people who no longer can carry on the fight for whatever he or she believes in. It is about a young man who at 24 gave his life simply by being the gunner on top of a truck that rolled over. He wasn't in a fire fight, he wasn't running into the shit to get a comrade out of harms way. He was a top the truck scanning the horizon for potential threats. It was the same thing done dozens of times as the convoy rolled back to base. He would not survive that final drive. He did not survive that final drive.
Today, I have to remember him a kid who left a mother who never recovered from his death and two kids who will never truly know their father. I remember him and this day that he gave his life. I also am brought to remember the second person that walks with me for the rest of my life, Msgt Steven Auchman.
In November 2004 I sat in my supply office in the 5th Air Support compound on Ft Lewis Army Installation like I had done nearly every day for 4 years. On the morning of Nov 10th (I believe) we were rushed into our meeting room upstairs for an impromptu Commander's Call. The mood, which was usually joking and fairly immature in our unit, was quiet and thick (for lack of a better word). As the room was yelled to attention we shot up out of our seats and assumed the proper position. The CO came in, put us At Ease and told us to be seated. Once we were settled back down he told us that our unit had lost a member, MSgt Auchman, during a mortar attack on the base in Mosul, Iraq.
MSgt Auckman was a radio repair guy or part of the "support" package like myself being supply. He was not suppose to die. He was not suppose to face any real danger. Support guys and gals are "in the rear with the gear" as we like to say. The Tactical Air Control Party
(TACP) guys on the other hand were definitely in danger all the time. They were in fire fights and hostile conditions that death hung around and watched in eager anticipation of new people to pick up. It was part of the job. While we didn't want one of the TACP's to be KIA we wouldn't be shocked if it happened. Sad? Yes. Shocked? No. That is the nature of the beast for them. Combat units have casualties. Spc Poulin is part of an Infantry unit the potential for death walks with those men daily. MSgt Auchman on the other hand wasn't suppose to be killed.
Of course we all know that war brings potential death and anyone can face his/her time but the point is there is an air of "not us" when it comes to the jobs that are in the safer locations. That morning changed that notion all together. Our small unit hadn't lost a person in combat. Our small unit hadn't had to face the true stain of wars in foreign countries. The Support folks would never have imagined it would be one of us that would do it. MSgt Auchman. with 24 years of service. was KIA in a bunker in Iraq. In that room I sat silently knowing that my life would never be the same.
I wasn't there in the combat zone with MSgt Auchman. His death hit me but hadn't changed me unlike the night I got the call that one of my soldiers had been sent to the Bagram Hospital in critical condition. I remember Lt Goble's last words, "B, he won't make it. We stabilized him to get him to Germany." An hour later I was in the hospital looking at the unrecognizable kid in the ICU with 800lbs of equipment on and around him to keep him alive. I would be changed forever.
MSgt Auchman and Spc Poulin are not tattooed on my skin but linked to my spirit. April 1st, Veteran's Day and Memorial Day I wake with the reminder that I live, in part, because they can not. One 24 years of military duty the other 24 years old. They are forever connected to me. I will not forget them. I will not let that flame die. If it is in my ability I will honor them the best way I know how, to live and find the amazingness in the world. Sometime this evening, after we have had our Easter lunch I will go to the store and grab another corona and have a drink with these two men because I never want to forget.
As I sit here remembering the call on April 1st, 2011 and the somber meeting on November 10th, 2004 I know this is what I am suppose to do. Remember these men because they, inadvertently, made me who I am today. They do not know it, hell, they will never be able to know it but they have changed me. Truth is, I have no idea what MSgt Auchman would be doing today or even if I would have ever spoken to him again after he retired from the military. I have no idea who Spc Poulin would be today or, again, if I would have ever spoken or even specifically thought of him again after or joint deployment for PRT Kunar in Afghanistan. What I do know is that I know what they can't do and it drives me to do what I can. I am an author, wellness workshop provider and motivational speaker because I realized I was wasting what I could do while they could not ever do anything again. Actually, that is not exactly true, they can inspire. They have inspired. Yes, that is what they have done inspired me to grow as a person, as a man, as a student and a teacher because that is how I pay homage to them and all those who have gone before us both military and civilian.
As you celebrate today, be it for, the rising of Christ for Easter Sunday, the jokes and pranks for April Fool's Day or it is just another day, remember, life is a gift. You have the right to explore it, to dive into it and to enjoy it. If you take anything away from this message take this, the best way to honor those you have lost is to live your life to the fullest. Celebrate them by living, loving, laughing, sharing, exploring, learning, embracing, educating and dancing too (yes, lets dance as well) with everyone you meet. Life is too short, time is too short and existence is too short to not make it the best you can.
Today, after I have finished my Easter lunch with my family, I will drive down to the store and buy those 2 Coronas. I will take them to the water and sit with their memories. I will sip one and open one for not only Dennis and Steven but for all those who have gone before us. I will remember them because they can't be here. The most important thing I will do is try to be a better person who helps make things better for others.
Until I can no longer do it, This Beers For You! Just A Thought my friends.
EDIT: Below is the video that I snapped of me drinking my beer for and with (in spirit) my brothers . It is an honor to be able to carry on their memory.