I never talk about how my friends died. It's not that I don't want people to know about their service. I do want them to know. I want people to remember who they were, how they served and why the lessons of these four Special Forces veterans need to be remembered and discussed on Memorial Day.
Chief Warrant Officer Bill Howell taught me how to be a Special Forces officer. I came to my team new and inexperienced and Bill was a new weapons sergeant. Normally, a sergeant training a captain would be unusual. In the Special Forces, it was expected. Bill taught me the importance of being both a great teacher and an eager student.
Master Sergeant Tony Yost was another new weapons sergeant who was strong, tough as nails and dedicated.
He loved to joke, especially at a young officer's expense. Late one night, while preparing soldiers for an exercise, Tony stared at me blankly as I finished up the order. As I asked for questions, Tony raised his hand and stated "that he was not impressed with my plan," and felt I should redo the briefing. Tony brought down the room in laughter and gave me a needed dose of humility. Tony taught me to strive to always be better, and not to take myself too seriously.
Master Sergeant Richard "Fergie" Ferguson was a legend. He could make friends with anyone — best friends and do it in about five minutes. In Bosnia, a group of angry Serbs was headed our way. By the time we got there, Fergie was sitting with them, drinking the local brandy, telling stories and having a ball. He taught me the more serious the matter, the greater the importance of humor and seeing people, not enemies.
Command Sergeant Major Brad Connor was one of the best military skiers I ever saw. One of our unit's missions was to be able to downhill ski. So every year we went with heavy hearts into the ski resorts and mountains of Colorado to perform our arduous task of being paid to ski. When I first met Brad, I was trying to dig myself out of a snow bank after I plunged in headfirst while I learned to downhill ski with an 80-pound backpack. As I dug myself out, I watched as Brad skied beautifully down a double black diamond run and then went through trees with the same 80-pound rucksack. Brad taught me the value of hard work and always, always improving your skills.
This Memorial Day enjoy the parades, the recognition, the cookouts and the beer far from Baghdad and the hundreds of other places Americans have shed blood. These great soldiers led by example and died serving. The most important task this Memorial Day and the days after is to speak about the friends you lost, who they were and why they mattered. Remembrance, not of how they died, but how they lived, is the recognition our fallen vets deserve.
Chad Storlie is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer and the author of two books on how to apply military experience to business.