I’m no hero, but I’ve been privileged to have served alongside heroes.
One such man is Mike “Groove” McGreevy. We completed the arduous Pre-Mini BUD/S training together at the U.S. Naval Academy, during our Second Class (or, Junior) year as midshipmen. That training took me a full month to recover. McGreevy, conversely, ran the Marine Corps Marathon at a brisk pace soon afterwards. He then, some years later, went on to lay down his life for our nation in Afghanistan as a Navy SEAL officer of a Quick Reaction Force trying to help four fellow SEALS under siege from hundreds of Taliban. Mike is a hero and is immortalized in the memories of his Naval Academy classmates, SEAL team-mates, and in the Naval Academy’s hallowed Memorial Hall and Arlington Cemetery.
Jeff McDonald is another. He and I served together at Submarine Group Eight at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom and coordinated the largest nuclear submarine task force in our nation’s history, paving the way for the ground invasion of Iraq. After two and a half years at Group Eight, Jeff and I were sent back to an operational submarine. He was assigned to the USS San Francisco and I was vectored to the USS Asheville, both of which were being deployed overseas. We were both in the Western Pacific Theater, under the operating authority of Task Force 74, when Jeff’s boat ran into, at flank speed, an un-surveyed, newly formed underwater mountaintop. Almost everyone aboard the ship was injured, including Jeff, and one killed. Jeff hobbled his way to the Control Room, as the boat barely resurfaced after an emergency blow of its main ballast tanks, and manned the bridge as Officer of the Deck, safely navigating the ship, with devastated hull.
In Guam, while my own boat was getting some maintenance done, Jeff and I spent hours together and deliberately avoided talking about the deadly accident, though, after a pint or two, he’d return to that day and the ubiquitous blood found throughout the submarine from forward to aft. Had it not been for Jeff’s stewardship in the bridge, the USS San Francisco and its 120 crew members may have slipped permanently beneath the Pacific’s waves.
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Montana, of course, punches well above its weight in supplying our nation with patriotic young men and women. In fact, Montana, outside of Alaska, has the highest rate of military service in the nation, and our heroes range from the posthumous Medal of Honor-winner Travis Atkins of Bozeman to, though our politics differ, Robert O’Neil of Butte, who helped hunt down Osama Bin Laden, to those like Bud Campbell who survived the Bataan Death March of World War II, the Korean War’s Newton Old Crow Sr., and the Vietnam War’s Bob Jewell.
Veterans Day gives us all a chance to reflect on those who have served our nation in uniform. It has also given me, as a U.S. Senate candidate, the opportunity to develop the policies that will help our veterans: protecting and fortifying the Veterans Administration, destigmatizing and treating war’s hidden injuries, including PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury), expanding rural Montana’s access to high quality health care, incentivizing the hiring and training of veterans, solving veteran homelessness, and tackling our state’s suicide epidemic head-on.
In other words, it is important to honor our veterans’ sacrifice through smart, empathetic, and high-return investments, responsive communications, and inter-agency collaboration rather than just symbols and words.