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Getting to know families of fallen veterans

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

With Veterans Day now in the rearview, I recently had a chance to reflect.

Every year, we emphasize the importance of the contributions of our Armed Forces members, both past and present. While this notion is absolutely warranted, some of the biggest contributions that often go unnoticed are the sacrifices military spouses and family members make every day.

I recently had to undergo physical therapy nearby in Lompoc. During my first visit, I entered the building still wearing my military attire. After completing some initial paperwork, I was greeted by an older gentleman who shook my hand and with the utmost conviction said, “Thank you for everything that you do.” While civilians thank military members every day for their service, something was different about this. I could sense this man’s admiration and pain all at once, like he had some sort of connection to a military member. He did.

That gentleman’s name is David Lane, a physical therapist at Carnahan Therapy in Lompoc. His brother, Army Sgt. 1st Class Mitchell A. Lane, was an engineer sergeant with the 2nd Battalion, Company C, 3rd Special Force Group (Airborne) out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Mitchell enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1987 and volunteered for active duty four years later. He was selected for Special Forces Training in 1995.

Mitchell would’ve been 47 years old this past August.

During his second tour in Afghanistan, Mitchell was killed in action during a nighttime combat assault. With about a month remaining in his second tour, Mitchell wasn’t even scheduled to participate in that evening’s mission. His dedication evident, Mitchell asked his commander if he could accompany the team. Mitchell was awarded a posthumous Purple Heart at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

David shared all of this information with me, and had I not asked, I may have never known. I would’ve assumed he was just another person graciously thanking me for my service. Every time I thanked him during my physical therapy stint, he would always respond with “I’m always going to thank you, no matter what.”

As a veteran myself, Veterans Day is incredibly surreal to me. Being greeted with such love and respect by total strangers is so endearing. But it should be a two-way street. Next time someone thanks you for your service, take the time and ask if they have any ties to the military or are prior military themselves. Everyone has a story.

Mitchell was a husband, a father, a brother, a son, and many other things to many other people. All it takes is one conversation with his, or any other service member’s, family to learn what they have contributed, and what their family has sacrificed.