Sunday, two Marine Raiders were killed in Iraq while clearing a tunnel of ISIS fighters. While the tragedy is undeniable, there is a lesson to be learned. A lesson of a great example set by two men. I’ll say this now so it doesn’t get twisted later, I don’t know these men, I don’t know their reputation in the Raider community, sadly all we really know about them is relegated to the last few minutes of their lives. But nonetheless, out of tragedy, a lesson will be learned.
The two Raiders, Captain Moises A. Navas and Gunnery Sergeant Diego D. Pongo…take moment and let their rank set in. A captain and a gunnery sergeant. I am extremely unfamiliar with the Raider community as I was not a party to that elite force. I do know though, that more than likely, this dangerous task which cost these men their lives, could have most likely been delegated to someone of lower rank, a couple of sergeants or staff sergeants maybe…that is after all the benefit of rank to a degree. Right? It’s not often you see a flag officer being the first man through the door on a raid. But these two men, a captain, and a gunnery sergeant, were either the only ones to do this section of the tunnel and everyone else was in another area, or these men chose to be in the tunnel.
We can’t really say much about the specifics because we weren’t there. What we can say is this. These men were leading from the front. Whatever their past mistakes or sins that others in their unit may have held against them…even if they were two of the worst men in the unit…they despite their rank, despite the privilege that could have accompanied such rank put themselves in harm’s way.
I’m reminded of a quote that Gene Hackman said in the movie “The Replacements”. He was talking to Keanu Reeves’ character and he said to him “When the game is on the line, winners want the ball,” or something to that effect. Winners want the ball. Winners want to take the fight to the enemy.
I don’t know these men. I don’t know their reputation. But I do know from my experience in an infantry battalion, that normally, captains and gunnery sergeants don’t HAVE to be in harm’s way. It’s probably a lot different in a tight-knit unit such as the Raiders and I’m probably assuming quite a bit, but I do know that these men when the “game was on the line,” they wanted the “ball”.
Whoever is reading this, whatever you’re going through, remember these two men, these two warriors. Remember that despite whatever fear they had, it was pushed aside to do a job of clearing tunnels in Iraq. They went. They ultimately paid with their lives, but they went.
As I’ve aged, I’ve heard people say “I would die for the ones I love.” Fair enough, but I ask and challenge you all today, would you live your life, not without fear, but in spite of the fear and would you truly LIVE to honor the memory of Captain Moises A. Navas and Gunnery Sergeant Diego D. Pongo.
Out of tragedy, a lesson…fair winds and following seas Marines.