Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Summit Project: My Letter to the Family of Joel A. House

As part of the GORUCK Heavy Boston we did two weeks ago, we had to carry a team weight of 50lbs throughout the event. We carried 50lb of stones from the Summit Project. Per their website:

"The Summit Project ... is a living memorial that pays tribute to the fallen service members from Maine who have died in the line of duty since September 11, 2001. 
The surviving families of our fallen Maine heroes have made this project viable.  Not only have they shared the stories of their loved ones’ character, integrity and service, they have also unearthed and donated a special memorial stone that uniquely represents their fallen family member. We’ve engraved those stones with their names. They will be carried on Hikes and mountain climbs.... We will carry their stones during the hike, but we will carry their stories for a lifetime —  making the Summit Project a living memorial."
Part of carrying the SP's stones is the requirement that you write a letter to the families of the Heroes stones which you carry after the event. While it wasn't the easiest thing to do, I'm glad that I did this as it made me reflect on what I just did and why I did it and really what that meant to me. I chose the Stone of Sgt. Joel A. House, Lee, ME.   

The House Family
Lee, ME 04455 

To The House Family, 
My name is Brett Biggs, you do not know me, nor should you know anything about me from any past interactions. Our paths, however, have now crossed under a common thread, your son Joel.
I recently took part in an event, The GORUCK Heavy in Boston on March 14th-15th. Our team had the Honor of carrying his memorial stone via the Summit Project amongst the other 50lbs of stones inscribed with more of Maine’s finest on them. Before the event, individual team members took ownership of a stone. Your son and I were paired by fait as I choose the first name on the list and it happened to be his. For reasons expressed herein, this is the last time you will read the use of the singular and not the plural to refer to our actions. 
To give you background on our event, it was a 24 hour endurance challenge. It is inspired by Special Forces training and taught by Special Forces individuals, in our case two seasoned Green Berets. While for it’s participants it is a physical and mental challenge, the main theme of this event is to be the “Ultimate Team Event” and to “Build Better Americans”. This is done through enduring physical and mental challenges that push your team past it’s comfortability zone and up against and sometimes through it’s collective mental and physical limits. You are forced to look beyond yourself and rely on your team to get through it.  It is only at this point that you are able to do more as one team then you can accomplish as a group of individuals. Not everyone makes it through. In fact we lost 9 team members out of 33 throughout the event. 
While this event is a military inspired challenge, as it is based off of the training experiences of active special forces members, no team member, many of which are ex-military, would claim this to be an experience equivalent to what our servicemen, go through on a daily basis. However, for the non-military team members, this event has an added aspect which we can only hope more Americans would experience. It offers a glance into the window over a relatively short period of time of what our servicemen go through physically and mentally. It is 24+ hours of getting uncomfortable, tired, dirty, cold and mentally beat down. All the things most Americans try to void their lives of. The major difference is we paid to do this in a safe environment and get to go home afterwards. This small taste of the world that your son volunteered himself to, gives a much deeper respect for their sacrifices for our freedoms. To even get a glimpse, no matter how small and toned down, is an eye opening experience.
The inspiration of the stones from the Summit Project brought so much more to that particular aspect of our experience. Just as your son did not know any of us, we did not know him. He volunteered to carry the burden of Freedom on his back for us and our families, no questions asked. The very least we could do is to carry his memory on our backs using his sacrifice as a inspiration for the short time that we did to accomplish something that was greater then anyone of us could have done alone. 
We want you to know that together in the good company of the other stones, your son’s life touched 33 people in many ways in that 24 hours. In whichever way that was, even for those that dropped out, there were better Americans built that day. Something was taught and learned by the weight which we carried together. When people learn to get outside themselves and do right by others, it is quite a feeling that is tough to describe. It is more then charity, it is becoming a stakeholder in the betterment others even if it is at your own expense. This becomes contagious and spreads. By your son’s example, his legacy will live on because of this. The Summit Project will continue to inspire others to do and be better in the name of the fallen in the things they do on a daily basis. 
GORUCKs products have a lifetime warranty on them. Any ruck sack no matter how good, if it is used as intended, it will sometimes get ripped or torn. Rather then throwing it out, when this happens we send our rucks to GORUCK’s SCARS program. It gets repaired and it returned usable as new but with stitches and patches where the damage occurred.  This is something that it to a certain extent desired to have on your ruck. It shows that you went through some serious stuff to get them. It makes the ruck better. 
We are all inundated on a daily basis with news of individuals killing, stealing etc. It’s easy to focus on these tears and rips in our society rather then what still good about it. If we don’t look around to see what is still good amongst all these wounds in society, we forget that the fabric of good can be restitched/patched into something even better. The sewers that do this are people like your son. When you see those few and far between benevolent acts where people think outside themselves and act for others, know that your son Joel along with his many “teammates” has had part in that. May we all focus more on people like Joel and less on the darker side of society. That is why it was such and honor for us to carry his memory with us.  

On behalf of GORUCK Heavy Class 028,

Brett R. Biggs 

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