News of a fallen service member always sends shockwaves through our military community. The sadness feels overwhelming, a burden we are forced to carry, somehow fraught with responsibility: it's the least we can do for the friends and families left behind to grapple with their new realities. A missing seat at the table, in perpetuity. The broken hopes and dreams; the heavy, unrelenting weight of grief of a world noticeably dimmer.
Earlier this week, we learned of the death of two Navy SEALs, killed in the Gulf of Aden during a ship-boarding op on January 11. The Navy searched for them for 11 days before releasing their names to the public, and changing their status from MIA to KIA. As my newsfeed was flooded with various angles of Jason Kelce at Sunday's playoff game, I couldn't help but wonder: When service members die in 2024, does America even notice?
It sounds like the start of a movie: high, stormy seas, speeding boats in the black of night; terrorists, weapons, global complexities only the most creative of screenwriters can conjure. While boarding a ship carrying Iranian weapons, one Navy SEAL slips, falling into the gap the waves created between the boat he was boarding and the SEALs' combatant craft. Without hesitation, a second SEAL dives in to try to save him. You can almost see it. Except this plot isn't fiction and these characters aren't portrayed by actors. And in this story, two of the heroes die. I'm sitting at an airport gate crying as I read more about their lives: Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers and Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage. More than anything, as I listen to people around me complain about flight delays, I want to scream. When did we stop grieving as a nation when our boys (and girls) don't come home? When did we become so oblivious and so desensitized to the human cost of war? And what can we do to combat that complacency?
I don't really have the right words, but it seems Congressman Dan Crenshaw (who lost his eye to an IED in Afghanistan during his service as a Navy SEAL) does. He posted on X (formerly Twitter):
"It’s with a heavy heart today that we announce the deaths of two SEALs, Chris Chambers and Nathan Ingram. They were killed in action in the Gulf of Aden during a ship boarding operation on January 11th. The vessel was carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis in Yemen (same Houthis that have been shooting those missiles at US ships lately, disrupting global trade).
"The seas were rough, and one SEAL went into the water during the boarding. It appears the second went in to rescue his teammate. These ops are dangerous. We have to hook a caving ladder to a hard point high up on the deck, and climb up from the smaller combat craft alongside the ship, while both are moving. All at night. With rough seas, a lot can go wrong.
"Everyone carries flotation with them and emergency “water wings”, but we don’t have the details of what happened exactly or whether the flotation worked. The water is warm, about 80 degrees, so the search went on for a long time in the hopes these guys could be found. Unfortunately that search was called off today.
"Pray for the families of these heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice. I wish more Americans understood the dangerous world we live in. I wish more understood how fragile the system is that gives you all of life’s comforts and freedoms. Chaos spreads easily and quickly, as history shows over and over. Leaving evil alone doesn’t make it go away.
"Thank God there are brave men willing to raise their right hand and take on these dangers and protect our way of life. I often hear people complain that 'we are at war' in one way or another - whether it was Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, or maritime operations like this one. But let’s be clear, there has never been a 'we.' The vast majority of Americans have been completely insulated from any of the costs of war. There is no we. There is a small number of us, and some, like these two men, make the ultimate sacrifice. Their families make an even greater sacrifice than you can imagine. Pray with them today..."
How do we make sure we remember our fallen? Say their names. Tell their stories. Honor their lives. And make sure we never, ever forget. Rest in peace, Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers and Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage. We've got the watch.
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