Wisconsin winters are bitter cold, which motivates me to wear sweatshirts.
Each one brings unforgettable memories.
I get lots of comments whenever I wear my Marines sweatshirt, as I did on Tuesday.
I served with some exceptional Marines in Afghanistan, especially those who were advisers to our partnered Afghan Army battalion.
Lieutenant Colonel Ty Edwards was the senior adviser during our last months in Afghanistan in 2008.
The Afghan Army tends to be very top-down.
This Afghan battalion had a senior NCO who was a mullah from the Nuristani ethnic group. We’ll call him Mohammad.
We had been working hard with the Nuristanis in our area.
Ty believed that Mohammad could boost our relationships.
The challenge was convincing the lieutenant colonel in charge of the battalion to let Mohammad play an influential role.
Ty asked questions that encouraged the commander to find ways that Mohammad could contribute his best.
The decision was a game-changer.
The elders embraced Mohammad, asking him to lead prayers before and after each meeting. Their trust grew.
Together, they convinced the leader of a large insurgent group to stop fighting and support the government.
Those elders and former insurgents continue fighting the Taliban today.
Mohammad’s role was instrumental in creating one of the biggest wins in the history of the 20-year war.
Ty invited me to his hooch for cigars on my last evening in Afghanistan and presented me with the Marines sweatshirt.
A few weeks later, Ty was badly wounded in a firefight as he rallied his Afghan partners. He always led by example.
I visited him several times at Walter Reed as he fought for his life.
Ty lives in Florida.
The Marines sweatshirt fills me with gratitude for Ty.
His leadership, courage, toughness, and friendship inspire me to make a difference, to pay it forward.
Thank you, Ty.
Who are you grateful for?