Memorial Day


***Please forgive typos and the length of the following post. It’s long because I had a nice chain of thought going, and I didn’t edit it because it was long. I’ll edit it one day soon.***

I was inspired to tell the following story by Memorial Day and what it stands for. I read a plethora of facebook posts and tweets consisting of quotes, sayings, and stories, and it compelled me to write a story of my own.

The training to become an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician is one of the most rigorous and demanding courses available to a member of the armed services for the US. Over a period of 13 months, students are examined and tested almost weekly, and in each of these examinations, a failure may mean a student is dropped out of the program altogether. Initial examination are physical in nature, beginning with a 5oo meter timed swim, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, and a mile or so timed run. Those who pass are then evaluated in terms of aquatic competency, beginning with treading water, then working up to binding the hands and feet and bobbing up and down to simulate survival at sea. Soon after, students strap on SCUBA gear and told to swim circles around the bottom of a pool. As students leisurely swim laps, instructors descend from the surface and rip away the breathing hoses of the students. The hose is tied around the rest of their gear. Their masks are ripped off, and the instructors aim to disorient the students by grappling, spinning, and pushing them around the pool floor. Students are then evaluated on their ability to stay calm, and put their equipment back together. Tests go on and on in this matter covering Physics, Leadership, all types of military ordnance, improvised explosives, chemistry, history, and a myriad of other subjects. The grading criteria is based on the probability of whether or not the student would have survived the simulated scenario. For example, if the student safely renders a simulated misfired grenade safe, he or she will pass. If at anytime a student conducts an action that could have resulted in the maiming or death of the student, the student will fail.

It was immediately prior to the first of these examinations that I first met Tyler Trahan. At that point in time, he was a Seaman Apprentice fresh out of Navy boot camp, and I was a green as can be Ensign fresh out of college. It didn’t take long for everyone to fall in love with Tyler. He began cracking jokes, and ribbing at others in the class before anyone even knew each other’s name. After the initial rounds of examinations, Tyler rose to the top as a consistent top performer. As the junior man, he was often singled out by the instructors and called upon to sing cadence as we ran mile after mile in the Florida heat. Due to his booming voice, and his innate ability to quickly learn and identify approaching instructors, Tyler became our “Hooyah” man, assigned to utter a booming “HOOYAH” as we moved from evolution to evolution during each day. As we studied and sweated through school, Tyler became the emotional center of gravity of our class. His incessant optimism and sense of humor kept us all smiling despite the stresses of school.

Test after test, we all experienced a bad day or two. Some of us were evaluated by the staff, and put back into training, while in most cases we lost classmates. Occasionally, we gained others who had been “rolled” from other classes, but our core group from the beginning shrank and shrank with each test.

Tyler never struggled. He laughed, smiled, and joked just as much on Test Day as he did at our backyard barbeques, the beach, or while we blew off steam t the many drinkaries in Destin, FL. On one occasion however, when the instructors came in our classroom to announce passes and failures, Tylers name was listed among the failures. The entire class was shocked, and silently turned to gauge Tyler’s reaction to the announcement.. Tyler didn’t flinch. He smiled and requested that his performance be re-evaluated. As he discussed his procedures with two different instructors, iwht all the panache and acumen of a seasoned defense attorney, he pointed out that there was a discrepancy in the reference publications, resulting in the difference of opinion between he and the instructors. The instructors had never noticed the error, and upon scrutiny realized that Tyler was in fact correct, and had not failed the test in the manner they had originally thought…

FOr the remainder of EOD school, Tyler’s name was announced among those who had passed each successive evaluation. We began the curriculum with 50 or so prospective candidates, and graduated in September of 2007 with only eight original members, including Tyler.

After school, Tyler went on to Virginia Beach, while I moved to Charleston, SC. We kept in close touch during our follow on training, swapping notes and funny stories. In the fall of 2008, I deployed to Iraq. Near the conclusion of my deployment, I learned that I would be transferring to Tyler’s mobile unit when I returned. I shot him an excited email, and we made plans to hit the beach when I got back. Unfortunately, Tyler’s deployment began right as I was returning, and we didn’t have that opportunity. Shortly after my transfer, I learned that my name had been swapped around on our organizational chart, and I was to take over as the Officer in Charge of Tyler’s platoon upon their return from Iraq! Tyler and I were now slated to be on the same team! I again shot him a very excited email, and he quickly echoed my enthusiasm. I began the long wait for their return by administering training to a group of Naval Academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Midshipman drink their “summer cruises,” similar to an internship, between the Junior and Senior years of college.

The day before I was to meet my first group of midshipman, I received a call from a mutual friend of Tyler’s. Tyler was mortally wounded while working with US Marines to disarm a roadside IED. The detonation of the IED killed Tyler and two Marines.

To this day I carry a small picture of Tyler in my wallet. In the picture he is laughing heartily. Tyler smiled a lot, laughed hard, and really enjoyed each moment to it’s fullest. I admired that about him, and I have tried to do the same. I think of Tyler when I am having a bad day, and I know that he would just crack a joke and continue to press on with a smile on his face. I know that I should do the same.

Many others like Tyler have made the same sacrifice. They don’t get to come home and hug their mothers, kiss their spouses, share a beer with their brothers. They will never see a sunset, never hear a baby laugh, or pet a puppy. Knowing Tyler though, I know that he is ok with that. He loved this country, and he made his sacrifice knowingly and willingly. I am honored to have shared some of my life with such an amazing person. He inspires me daily. He inspires me to accomplish more. He inspires me to challenge myself and others. He inspires me to love my family and friends, and most of all he inspires me to enjoy every moment to it’s fullest.

Rest easy brother. Know that we miss you and love you, but know that we enjoy life like we know you would.