As I was sitting at my desk mulling over a topic to share with you this week, the following email popped up on my monitor. “It is with sadness that we announce the death of Capt. Paul Pena, 27, USMA class of 2004. He was killed supporting Operation Enduring Freedom on Jan. 19 in Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan. He died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.”. As a 1980 academy graduate I receive these notifications from West Point via our class moderator. What saddened me further was reading the attached eulogy page to this email, which read the only surviving relative of Captain Pena was his mother.
Upon reading this, my heart broke and I thought of the anguish this mother must be going through. As tears swell writing this even now, I reflect on what it means to serve and how our service to others, in all forms, defines us as individuals, as a community and yes, as a nation. I believe genuine human character is found in those who serve with sincerity, selflessness and a sense of duty for the greater good of humankind. Throughout my life it has not been one’s title, income or possessions that have impressed me most about an individual, but rather their efforts to better the society around them.
Personally, I have discovered the true character of our Saratoga Springs community not through my business dealings or my professional speaking engagements, but rather observing the service of others through my own service on the volunteer boards and committees I participate on. I have found the heart and soul of this community by meeting those who genuinely want to give back to a community that has given much to them. Service is defined as, “the action of helping or doing work for someone.”, and duty is defined as, “a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility; done from a sense of moral obligation rather than for pleasure.” Reflecting on the above death announcement, it is the ultimate example of service and duty to knowingly put your life at stake to protect the freedoms that allow me to share this column with you today. If anyone reading this is doubtful about themselves, or saddened by their circumstances, take yourself out of the picture and utilize the talents and skills that you possess through serving those around you. Volunteer, be involved, take your passion for a cause and mobilize your efforts to make that passion come to fruition. You will immediately gain a greater sense of purpose, energy, personal motivation and individual value.
There is evidence each day that validates the value of service, its impact on the world, and the personal satisfaction in brings. Service combined with a sense of moral obligation, “duty”, is and has always been, a demonstration of human spirit at its best. The more you think of others the happier you tend to be because of the value you provide to those around you. Any baggage we carry filled with self-pity, regret, self-doubt, envy, and jealousy are contents for personal destruction, and forgiveness is the opened zipper to empty such baggage. Forgiveness is freedom from hurt, nourishment for the heart and renewal for the soul. Effective personal reflection is the ability to think beyond yourself and know you have value to those around you. There are always causes beyond ourselves, and although our role may not be to the level of Captain Pena, his example inspires me to realize that we have a “duty” to be more than we are through our service to those around us. Five clarifying questions to prompt your community service are, * What are your passions? * What are your causes? * What talents do I possess that reflect my passions and can help execute my causes? * What are the core values that support my passions and define my causes? * What entities within my community can provide an open door to serve? There are moments remembered and moments discarded, but the most important moments are the ones that bring joy to others.