It’s been nine years since my only brother, Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion, was killed during a combat operation in Iraq. The day that our family received that knock on the door, our lives were forever changed. Would we let this tragic event define us? Who would we become without Travis?
In the nine years since our loss, I’ve learned that my life need not be defined by a tragic event, but it can be inspired by it. I’ve learned that living without Travis was never really an option. He’s at the core of every decision I’ve made since April 29, 2007. His character and legacy have inspired everything I do. Above all, I’ve learned that we only get one shot at this life. So let’s make it one worth living, and one to be proud of.
In support of that mission, our family began the Travis Manion Foundation in order to assist our nation’s veterans and families of the fallen. In that time, I’ve met thousands of veterans who have proudly served our country during this time of war and have transitioned back into civilian life. In that transition, I find that veterans are often plagued with the same sorts of questions that I wrestled with in the wake of my brother’s death: How will this experience define my future? Who will I become outside of the military? How can I continue to live a life I can be proud of?
As you consider these difficult questions this Memorial Day, I ask you to do so with the aim of flourishing. As my good friend and CEO of Hire Heroes USA Brian Stann often says, “Do not simply live a life of existence, but live a life of substance.” At the Travis Manion Foundation, we help veterans flourish in their transition by helping them to find engagement, meaning, and purpose.
To find engagement, we provide educational workshops that aid veterans in identifying what passions and strengths they possess that can be channeled into productive and gratifying careers. All too often, veterans assume that they need to find a job related to their MOS. I truly believe that transitioning veterans should spend time considering their strengths and passions. What do you enjoy doing? What are you good at? What do you think is important? If your next career doesn’t meet at the intersection of those answers, no amount of money will be enough to make you happy.
We are also staunchly committed to providing meaning and purpose to our transitioning veterans. We all know that leadership, service, and generosity is written into the DNA of every returning service member — and these qualities were very much alive in my brother. Travis was a loving son to my parents and uncle to my daughter. He was a disciplined athlete, a loyal friend, a fearless warrior, and occasionally, yes, a smart ass younger brother. But more than all of these, he was a person of character. I am confident that, had he returned to civilian life, he would exercise this same character in his post-military career by engaging in activities that afforded him meaning and purpose.
Many of the veterans we work with identify this same need to serve a higher cause. Feeling that sense of purpose — as you did every day while serving on active duty — has the effects of an addictive drug. And if you remove it abruptly from your life, it can cause a kind of withdrawal. Unfortunately, the cause of this withdrawal often times gets masked by other variables in life that are changing at the time of transition. We’ve found that finding a way to continue to serve — whether in one’s career or charitable activities — is an important component to any successful transition.
Thankfully, there is good news: There are many strong, effective, well-led organizations that offer opportunities for veterans to use the skills and experience they learned while serving in the military to continue serving in their post-military lives. Whether it’s deploying in response to a natural disasters with Team Rubicon, mentoring youth to live with character with the Travis Manion Foundation, or serving a community in need with The Mission Continues, there are many ways for service members to team up with others; to continue to serve their community; to find purpose, meaning, and camaraderie with like-minded veterans.
So as we approach this Memorial Day, we rightfully contemplate the lives of those we’ve loved and lost. I welcome and appreciate that exercise. I just ask that you not let it stop there. I ask you to go the extra step and honor those loved ones in the best way possible: by building on the legacies they left behind. By making them proud. This Memorial Day, focus on being a better child, spouse, or sibling. Be generous with your time and resources. Laugh. Forgive. Celebrate. Serve. Lead. This Memorial Day, I ask you to flourish. Never settle for “good enough” because life is too damn short. And you only get one.