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Navy SEAL urges Culver students to earn sacrifices veterans made for them

Tom Coyne

Culver once again paused to reflect on the service and sacrifice of America's veterans during its annual ceremony. (Photo by Andrew Crowell)

A Navy SEAL chief special warfare operator challenged students at Culver Academies on Veterans Day to be worthy of the sacrifices others have made to defend the United States. 

“All of us, including me, have benefited from the sacrifices of our veterans. I have but one request of you all: Earn it,” said Chief C., a Culver Military Academy graduate who asked not to be further identified because of security concerns as an active-duty SEAL. 

The ceremony Saturday was the 99th time Culver Academies has recognized the sacrifices of American and Allied service members during World War I. Other than recognizing veterans from wars that followed World War I, the ceremony held outside the Legion Memorial Building has changed little since that first ceremony in 1924.

Chief C. told the students he had attended four such ceremonies while he was a student at Culver, and he was embarrassed he couldn’t remember them. So, he told the cadets to be at ease and look at him, hoping it would help them to remember the event. A video of the speech is available here.

Chief C. is a graduate of Woodcraft Camp, Summer Naval School and CMA and also worked as a summer camp counselor for five years. As a Navy SEAL, he has completed direct action counter-terrorism deployment as an assaulter in East Africa, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and the Indo-Pacific. 

Chief C. thanked his brother, sister and other family members for traveling great distances to hear him speak at the ceremony, saying he was “honored and humbled” to be chosen to be the Veterans Day speaker and to be “with my fellow cadets.” 

“To say that Culver was formative and integral to my foundation simply just does not do the truth much justice,” Chief C. said. “My love, admiration and appreciation for Culver is endless. Culver’s ability to instill the call to service, to nurture and cultivate esprit de corps, and to truly challenge its students to foster their own self efficacy, is a recipe long proven in her alumni.” 

He learned the concept of servant leadership at Culver and told the students the concept of placing others before themselves was being instilled in them. 

Ava Borland '24 reads "In Flanders Fields" by John McRae. (Photo by Andrew Crowell)

“Here at Culver that means leading by example. Never asking a peer to perform a duty you would not perform yourself. Placing the well-being of your dorms and your units above the comforts and conveniences of any individuals. These truths remain for those of us in military service as well,” he said. 

He said that every person who joins the military promises to give “up to and including their lives” to defend their country. He said that promise is “sworn on oath. Not to a president, not to a political party, but to the Constitution.”  

People who join the military, some as young as 17, can’t grasp “how heavy that burden could be,” he said. “They wouldn’t know just how much would be asked of their young bodies and minds.” 

Being in the military isn’t a 9-5 job, he said. There is no clocking out. In service of their country, people miss anniversaries, birthdays (or even the births) of their children, first baseball games, Christmas celebrations and weddings. 

“Many would come home missing much more. Our veterans have returned from war missing pieces of themselves, both physically and spiritually,” he said. “They have given of their hearts, their minds and their bodies.” 

He said there is an altruistic reason why men and women in the military do that: “So that you don’t have to. So you can sleep peaceably in your beds knowing that rough men stand ready to do violence on your behalf.”  

But he said altruism isn’t the only reason, pointing out that his senior quote in the Roll Call read: “I just want to jump out of planes and blow stuff up.” 

Chief C. told the students there is a well-known form of communication known in the military as the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why. He said he wanted to talk to them about the five Ws of America’s veterans. 

“Who are they? Who were they? What have they done for us? Where have they done these things? When? And, perhaps most importantly, why have they done them?” 

He told the students that U.S. military personnel “have fought and died in nearly every corner of the earth, from the snowy mountain tops of Afghanistan to the long-forgotten jungles of Tarawa and sun-beaten desert islands like Wake.” 

He told of some of the heroes he knew in the military. One example is Marine Capt. Matt Lampert ’98, who lost both legs when he drove over an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010, and returned to his special operations unit 18 months later. Another is Navy Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, who served on teams supporting SEALs, and was killed by an ISIS bomb in Syria in 2019. He talked about how his 6-foot tall grandfather returned home after serving in the Marines during World War II weighing just 115 pounds after he was held as a prisoner of war for three years and eight months. 

He also told of Mike Day, a Navy SEAL who was shot 27 times while fighting in Iraq in 2007 but still managed to kill three enemy fighters. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and committed suicide earlier this year. 

“These are our veterans. These are our heroes. And they are our responsibility,” he said. 

He told the students that the United States has fought in 12 major conflicts starting with the Revolutionary War through the two-decade long war in Afghanistan, and in lesser conflicts, and will continue to do battle where necessary. 

“Finally, and I say this with some urgency, that this is your torch to carry,” he said. “Those of you here today who will serve in our armed services will stand on the shoulders of the greatest men and women our country has produced, just as I have.” 

“Those who will go on to be leaders of tomorrow, this will fall on you,” he said. “Our country needs you and it will need not only your sacrifices, but your unending leadership and devotion.” 

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