When I was in high school thinking about colleges, I never thought about hearing about the deaths of classmates. Then again, I never thought I was going to be in the military.
Somewhere along the lines, I did join the military – by way of the United States Air Force Academy – and I graduated from a school that has its own facebook page dedicated to fallen graduates. On days like today, I wonder how many other schools have those kind of pages. I don’t imagine many do.
It is a sad and beautiful thing to watch news pass between graduates in sync or even before the news. In a world where we are all connected and yet apart, it gives us a space to grieve with others in a unique way. People take shots and post the pictures of empty glasses and the rest of us understand.
This week a 2010 graduate from my school was killed in a Green on Blue attack in Afghanistan. Just typing that is shocking to myself. When you go to a military school or when you even just join the military, they always talk about the “ultimate sacrifice” but it always feels more like a myth for some of us than a reality. And it is true, we have far less deaths in war now than in past wars, and in the Air Force in particular we tend to be less directly in harms way than our Army/Marine brothers but it does not make it any less real when it does happen.
Too often I have seen my Facebook page littered with the status updates “a toast” – a way to honor the fallen. Whether it is from a training accident, a suicide, or combat, it is always shocking and saddening to me. I believe the last name placed on the USAFA Graduate Memorial Wall – a wall that contains names of all graduates killed as a result of hostile action during a state of military conflict – was Capt David Lyon, Class of ’08, killed near Kabul, Afghanistan by an IED in December 2013. I know our fellow West Point graduates have far more recent names than us.
I have yet to have anyone close to me pass in these manners but these names are not lost on me either. These are men and women I went to school with, a relatively small school where even if you didn’t know someone, you probably knew OF them – especially in the classes directly above and below you. I didn’t know Matthew, but I know many people who did. I feel for him and his family right now, as does everyone in the Long Blue Line.
One of the most memorable formations at the Academy was the one we had every year for the graduates that have passed that year. The next time they have this formation, among the names of the graduates dating all the way back to our first graduating class who have passed, they will call for Capt Matthew Roland. And they will respond “Absent, Sir.” I can only hope that each cadet will dwell just a second longer on that name, and what that means for each of them as they graduate.
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this. In a way, I feel like I can humanize this for others. People may see articles “2 Killed in Afghanistan” and skim them, pass over them, or not really be affected by them. Maybe they will read this instead and pause for a moment instead and think of my fellow college graduate as a little bit more than just a name on the news.
Of those who love the vastness of the sky,
To a friend we send a message of his brother men who fly.
We drink to those who gave their all of old,
Then down we roar to score the rainbow’s pot of gold.
A toast to the host of men we boast, the U.S. Air Force!