I've said many times that I accepted the Medal of Honor, not on my behalf, but on the behalf of my brothers who lost their lives, on behalf of all the men and women serving our country, and on behalf of those who gave all. I believe that the only reason I am a Medal of Honor recipient is because I was given an opportunity. On September 8, 2009, when everything that could have gone wrong in Ganjgal Valley, Afghanistan went wrong, I was given the opportunity to defy orders by doing what my family had raised me to do and what the Marine Corps had taught me to do; to leave no man behind. I truly believe that any other man or woman in uniform, who would have found themselves in my position that day, would have done the same thing. But it was me who was given that opportunity.
Now, I have an opportunity to make the most of the position I've found myself in, as a Medal of Honor recipient. I have chosen to use the platform I've been given to try to make a difference in our world. You see, everyday we are each faced with circumstances; sometimes favorable, often times not. We can look at these circumstances as situations, or we can see them as opportunities. I prefer opportunities because it has a much more positive connotation, and I encourage you to do the same.
What we do with the opportunities we are given defines us. I didn't want to accept the Medal of Honor, when I first learned I would be receiving it. Still, to this day, I struggle with my feelings of being a Medal of Honor recipient. But I also realize that receiving the Medal of Honor gives me an opportunity, on a large scale, to bring recognition to our service members and to my brothers who gave their lives for each of us. It's not always easy, but when I'm feeling tired and I'm losing my will to continue on, I look down at my wrists and I find my inspiration again. I wear a band on each wrist with the engraved names of my heroes, my fallen brothers, and when I need a lift, I'm reminded that these guys don't have the opportunity to continue on and so I have to do that for them.
We are each provided chances to do something with our lives; to make a difference. Sometimes it's hard, or even scary, to walk through that door of opportunity because there is no way of knowing where it may lead. I had no idea that making the decision to enter the valley in Afghanistan would lead me to where I am today. And I wish things had ended differently than they did. But the fact is that I cannot control what happened back then, all I can do is move forward today.
Traveling 25 days a month to speak to groups can be exhausting; even for a 23 year-old. But I do it because I've been given this opportunity and every opportunity is a gift. I'll leave you with the following quote and I hope you take it to heart. I hope each of you take advantage of every opportunity you're given and make the most of your life.
"Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity.
They seem more afraid of life then death."
~James F. Byrnes