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Brent Wingfield in military uniform

Why I’m thankful for struggle, triumph, and sacrifice

May is Military Appreciation Month. Veteran Brent Wingfield, an outreach strategist (senior account executive) supporting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for DCG, shares his thoughts about what the military has meant in his life. He lives near Savannah, Ga., with his wife, Madison, his son, Max, and three dogs, Mika, Loki, and Brie.

What does it mean to appreciate the military?

And not just some jets flying over the Super Bowl, a “we support our troops” banner at your local IHOP, or a free entre at Applebee’s every year? What does it mean to really appreciate our nation’s warfighters in a meaningful and impactful way?

I think it’s subjective, but the answer starts with the question: What does it mean to you?

Male American soldier wearing camera crouched with a gun in his hands staring at the camera wearing sunglasses and sticking his tongue out

Yours truly

For me, it means being thankful:

Thankful I was able to serve when, where, and with whom I did; thankful for what it taught me; thankful for the lifelong friendships I made; and thankful that others still put the uniform on every day.

For starters, military service is sort of a family tradition in my house. My dad was a soldier, my grandfather was a sailor, my great grandfather was a pilot in World War II. It goes on … serving in the military deepened my connection to my family, especially those I never had the fortune to meet.

Four generations of men from the same family showing their military portrait over time

From left to right: My great grandfather, Roy Grant (KIA); my grandfather, Fred Kellner; my father, Gary Wingfield, and me

Serving also deepened my connection to and affinity for our country as a whole and its shared history. I served with people from all over the United States and lived places (both stateside and overseas) I never would have otherwise seen or experienced. I fought in Iraq with the famed 101st Airborne Division and again in Afghanistan with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the longest continually serving cavalry unit in the Army. It was surreal to wear the same patches and be a part of the same brotherhood as countless others who served before my time, in some of the most historic battles and campaigns in our country’s history.

One of the greatest things about the military, though, was making close friends, based exclusively on personality and work ethic, who were from all walks of life, different nationalities, income levels, races, creeds, and religions. It was common to be part of an uncommon group:

The white guy from Texas with his Stetson; the Black guy from New Orleans in his Jordans; the Chicano in Raiders gear; the Appalachian dude with a huge wad of chew; the pop-punk kid from Connecticut; the New Yorker whose family came from Guatemala; the Cuban who was the only one of us who knew how to dance; the surfer from Anaheim; it goes on. We were truly a sight to see — an adopted family with ties stronger than blood and time.

Male American soldier wearing camera gear and sunglasses standing on a street in Afghanistan

Spring Break 2010, Afghanistan

I’m thankful for what that family and my service alongside them taught me:

? Discipline and attention to detail.

? It made me appreciate little things I used to take for granted and some big things I never noticed before.

? It taught me how to suffer well, that I wasn’t made of glass, and how to triumph over adversity and hardship.

? It taught me the values of selflessness, accountability to your team, and a never-quit attitude.

? It made me a man.

Most of all, I’m thankful that millions of brave men and women continue to serve in our country’s all-volunteer military, knowingly and willingly putting themselves in harm’s way, for me and for you.

I know that serving in any branch comes with its own unique struggles, triumphs, and sacrifices made, both seen and unseen. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines can and regularly do leave their homes and families, risking life, limb, and eyesight to serve on all our behalf, all over the world, every day.

American military car driving down a street in Afghanistan

Fco 2/2 CR, patrolling near Qalat, Afghanistan (2011)

I’m thankful that so many Americans still answer that call to selfless service, too, and I’m humbled by the benefits, freedoms, and security we all enjoy because of them. I appreciate all the men and women who serve our country honorably.

Serving in the armed forces can sometimes be a thankless job and not many are aware of its hidden costs. If you have served or are serving now, though, remember that your sacrifices don’t go entirely unnoticed. You carry the hopes, memories, prayers, and thanks of millions in your pocket.

I appreciate those who came before, those serving now, and those who will carry the torch tomorrow.

Why I’m thankful for struggle, triumph, and sacrifice was originally published in DCG Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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