Two summers ago, I was five months into a hike of the Continental Divide Trail, a smelly, dirty hiker with nothing but a backpack. I was "finding myself." On one particular day, I found myself eating ice cream in an Idaho town named Mack's Inn, population 276. Before I knew it, I was sharing a friendly conversation with a retired couple about my hiking adventures when they asked what I planned to do after I finished hiking the trail. I told them I would be pursuing an MBA at the University of Pittsburgh, and the inevitable follow-up question came: "What do you plan to do with an MBA?"
Similar to goal setting, where goals should be written down, big ideas often are not "real" until you say them aloud. For the first time, outside of my close circle of friends, I told this couple that I had just met my intent: I would start a nonprofit whose mission would be to ensure that a national memorial be built on the National Mall for my era's warriors. I told them what motivated me, sharing some of my own experiences as a deployed service member and talking about why they were significant. The conversation politely ended and the couple left the ice cream shop. The attention I was paying to my phone was broken a few minutes later. The woman was back. She handed me $20 and said, "Here. Consider this your first donation."
In the two years since, the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation has taken shape. Our team is built of more than 30 volunteers — mostly veterans and military family members — who have dedicated countless hours toward creating a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of this generation of warriors. A memorial like this provides an opportunity to heal. It's an opportunity to honor and remember. It is an ever-important opportunity for those of us that have gained the wisdom and understanding that only comes from leading and fighting at the point of death to convey that wisdom back to the population that has become increasingly isolated from its modern-day legions. It's an opportunity to educate.
Our movement requires more than just the best of intentions. A statute written in 1986 states that a war must be over for 10 years before Congress can consider a memorial. Those 10 years were intended to assess whether a conflict was historically significant enough to warrant permanent space on our National Mall. And yet the conflicts under the big umbrella of the Global War on Terror have already surpassed the decade mark. Their 15 years of continuous warfare equates to 6.3 percent of our nation's entire history. And most sobering, the burden of that yoke was borne by an all-volunteer force of less than 1 percent of the nation's population. History is made with every passing day as we continue to fight. We owe it to this generation of service members, veterans and families to erect a monument on our National Mall that can be visited by a citizenry that can still remember the morning of Sept. 11 and the response that followed and continues to this day.
Retired Army Capt. Andrew J. Brennan decided two years ago that he would establish a nonprofit whose mission would be to ensure that a national memorial be built on the National Mall for veterans of the Global War on Terror.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Brennan
And so our foundation has begun to share this vision. We've brought our story to the airwaves, boardrooms and congressional offices. The VFW, whose members have already seen their monuments come to fruition, has formally endorsed our endeavor. Other senior leaders in the veteran non-profit space are giving us their time and consideration. Something I have known for two years is becoming apparent to others: There is a big win here. There is going to be an opportunity for this generation — the generation that raised their right hand and has fought since just after Sept. 11 — to reach out and put their hand on something tangible on our nation's front lawn.
When our memorial is finally built and dedicated, I have this image in my mind's eye. Instead of a unit of the 10th Mountain Division returning home to their base, they land at Reagan International and are bused to their memorial. Those who fought abroad for the first time join in the legacy of those who fought before them: they all pay tribute to their brothers and sisters lost. And their countrymen can take a moment to welcome home its warrior class in a public way — and maybe understand them just a little bit better.
I want to see this. Help us bring that vision into reality.
Retired Army Capt. Andrew J. Brennan is the founder and executive director of the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation. The 2008 West Point graduate flew Black Hawks in Afghanistan. The opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military Times editorial staff.