It is hard to say which Afghanistan Memory Wall tribute was the toughest:
The first one (Feb 28, 2013) had so much emotion and dynamics in it:
- I didn’t know where/how I was going to get wall built as late as Feb 10 and the date set for 1st wall was Feb 28. Intense!
- I’d never done it. I had written out 25-30% at a time in my office practicing but never in front of anyone and never 100% straight through. I didn’t know if I could do it
- I had invited all my friends and family plus the press. It was a big stage for something I had never done
- I had sacrificed so much to get there. The previous year, time with family and friends was few and far between because of my dedication to the wall.
NYC on Fox News (April 4, 2013) had it’s own challenges. It was being done for Fox News morning show Fox and Friends and they wanted me to end at 8:45am live on their show. This meant I had to start at 10pm the previous night! I adjusted my sleep schedule the days prior but working through the night was a challenge. Combine that with my laptop being stolen literally 50 feet from me at 6am and you have a challenging time to focus.
San Antonio and Phoenix, well they were tough but nothing compared to 1st time and NYC and nothing compared to yesterday:
June 29th at Southfork Ranch, ‘Celebrate Freedom’ concert. Just days prior my dad had called me to tell me to – wear sunscreen, wear the boonie style hat like I wore in Afghanistan to protect from heat and drink plenty of Gatorade. I knew he was right but I didn’t know how right until I got there.
The Weather statistics from June 29, 2013. At the peak it was 101
Just one hour into it I knew it was going to be tough. I started writing at 8:15am and by 9:20 I was already light headed. It wasn’t even the heat of the day yet and my brain couldn’t focus. I was looking at names that I had written as if I was seeing them for the first time. I was constantly doubting if I was spelling the names correctly and going blank on more than a few. I downed 2 Gatorades by 11am and I knew the worst of the heat was still to come.
The last 3-4 months I have been on a fairly strict diet and almost no junk and low carbs but I was so light headed I felt I needed food in me. I sent my cousin Donovan to get me a Chick-Fil-A sandwhich at a booth down from me (Also special thanks to Julie Gillespie, Jordan and Valoree Murray for coming out to support). It is rare that I will check the book I have the names written in (what I memorized) but in the first thousand names I must have walked over to the book 5-6 times to check a name. You may think checking 5-6 names out of 1000 is not a lot and maybe it isn’t. But I never have to check.
At 2-3pm Donovan was spraying me down with sunscreen and making sure I was hydrated. I must have consumed 4 full size Gatorades and a Powerade bought by a bystander and not to be graphic but I didn’t take a bathroom break for 10 hours. My body was using all the fluids it could handle. The highest temperature of the day was 101 at 2:45 and although I didn’t have a temperature gauge, I certainly knew it.
As the end of the day approached I had met the cousin of SPC Christopher Horton. He was a sniper who was killed in his sleep by an enemy who had snuck onto the base. He took a bullet to the knee, chest and face and was instantly gone. I met a brave Marine who knew 2 names on the wall as he was in the vehicle with them when they hit the IED. The pastor of Sgt Enrique Mondragon came by to tell me about Enrique and his family. 1LT Robert Welch had many stop by as they told me of his wife and 2 kids.
As I heard these stories and my body was physically and mentally drained I knew this day was nothing compared to the last day each of these names experienced. My challenges with the heat were nothing compared to what our troops were experiencing at that exact moment in Afghanistan. As I reminded myself of my relatively ‘easy day’ I simply guzzled fluids and pressed on.
I wrote the last name around 7:30pm. It was almost 12 hours of writing. The heat had staggered me, slowed me down and drained me but there was enough in the gas tank to complete the 5th Afghanistan Memory Wall and still enjoy the concert and fireworks display to come.
Toughest day of writing the wall? Yes. Mother nature can break the knees of any man. We are not as strong as we think we are when we encounter the steady, robust and unyielding forces of our environment but still an ‘easy day’ in the greater perspective.