A few years back, I took up obstacle racing. Typical races are 8-13 miles long with 15-25 military style obstacles. It always intrigues me after every race to hear people talk about how it was the hardest thing they have ever done. Sure the races are difficult, but I wouldn’t consider them the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This always gets me thinking, “What is the hardest thing I’ve ever done?” The truth is, I really don’t know. I always come up blank. But I’m certain these races are not it. Comparing my life to the people around me, always makes me feel like I haven’t done anything in my life that I can honestly call difficult without hiding my face a little.

I have been fortunate to know and work with a lot of veterans. My father fought in the Vietnam War. Beyond an occasional funny story (like when they had a pet python on a leash), he wouldn’t even talk about what he went through. I know he spent a good portion of his time wading through rice paddies. I know he ate so much rice that he refused to eat it once he was back in the United States. I know that he also once ate enough fresh pineapple to make himself sick. I know that he cut his leg badly with a machete while clearing a path through the jungle. I know that he didn’t care much for fireworks and would nearly hit the deck anytime a loud noise startled him. I know the cancer that eventually took his life was likely a result of Agent Orange, an herbicide used extensively in Vietnam to clear forested areas, thus robbing the enemy of their cover. I can’t imagine what my dad experienced over there.

I have a good friend who wears a bracelet with the names of a dozen or so friends who died while he was in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. He tells of being ambushed multiple times and having to routinely carry 100-plus pounds of gear up huge mountains, at crazy elevation, in the dark, night after night. He still can’t hear out of one ear due to gunfire right next to his head during one ambush. I know others who have been shot at, blown up, and worked 13-hour days without rest seven days a week. I know veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had a friend who eventually took his own life because of it. Veterans leave their friends and family for at least a year, travel to places well outside their comfort zone, and endure hardships I can’t imagine. What have I ever done that compares to what our American soldiers have done, and are doing still for this great country? Nothing.

I was lucky to grow up in a family that deeply admired and respected our soldiers. My grandfather was in the Dutch Underground, hiding Jews with my grandmother and transporting ammunition in my uncle’s baby carriage. My father was in Vietnam, my brother in the Marines, my sister in the Navy, my brother-in-laws served in the Coast Guard and Air Force. I was the first child in our family not to join the military! I can’t thank my family and my friends enough for what they have done for the United States and for me. Freedom is something so many people around the world do not have. We are blessed beyond measure. But know that that blessing doesn’t come without a price. Men and women have bled and died since the beginning for the freedom our country enjoys and we often take it for granted.

To all veterans reading this, please accept my sincerest “Thank You.” We owe you everything.

Arlo Gagestein owns Competitive Edge Fitness in Ogden and ground fighting instructor for the Ogden City Police Department.

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