For the first half of this year, I was back in Afghanistan, this time at the Train, Advise, Assist Command South (TAAC-S) located at Kandahar Airfield. While there I had the distinct honor to serve alongside the honorable soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard and the historic 82nd Airborne. It is not the first time either of these two U.S. Army units deployed overseas in service to our country.

These thousands of men and women join the ranks of the approximately 200,000 thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that are currently serving overseas in 177 countries worldwide. Those 200,000 service members represent approximately 9.3 percent of the 2.1 million active and reserve military members currently serving our great nation. Military members account for less than 1 percent of the population in America and currently there are approximately 20 million veterans alive today.

I cite those statistics to draw attention to what is referred to as the 1 percent club, i.e., the percentage of citizens in this country who are actively serving or who have served our nation in uniform. When you really think about those numbers, it’s sobering. Sobering because of how small that number really is. Less than 1 percent, actually 0.65 percent, of our fellow citizens volunteer to serve our country in the military. Sobering because that has meant that many of our veterans have deployed overseas into harm’s way six, eight, 10 or more times over the course of their military careers.

Two examples are Col. Mitch Watkins (MCTP, Fort Leavenworth) and Col. David Webb (56th IBCT, 36th ID) who I had the pleasure to work for in Kandahar. These men, like thousands of other soldiers, have repeatedly left their families behind, led troops into combat and high threat environments, and have done so at the drop of the hat, without reservation, because they have the heart of a servant.

Some will say that was their choice, and I could not agree more. To forsake others and serve your fellow citizens through service in combat arms is definitely a personal choice, one that is, in my opinion, one of the most honorable and selfless choices one could make.

It’s definitely a choice, like for Col. Watkins, who was injured while jumping out of a helicopter in a remote region of Afghanistan but chose to stay and serve out the duration of his tour rather than take a medivac back to the U.S. Or like Col. Webb, who after being shot several times on previous tours, volunteered to serve yet again. The story of these two patriots is regrettably not unique. There are thousands of men and women in the 1 percent club who have done the same and more, all because they chose to serve our nation in the finest armed forces in the world.

I would be forever remiss if I didn’t recognize my fellow 1 percenters – the finest fighting force this world has ever witnessed. It was a force born out of a small tavern, Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia, raised by decree of the Continental Congress to establish the first two battalions of Continental Marines on Nov. 10, 1775. It was led by Capt. Samuel Nichols, their first commandant, who within weeks of their banding together executed their first amphibious raid at Fort Nassau, Bahamas, and successfully routed the British troops within minutes of their landing. It is a force respected and revered worldwide. Of course, I speak of the United States Marine Corps.

Happy 242nd birthday my fellow Marines and Semper Fi!

To the honorable men and women, veterans of our armed forces, who only take a knee to honor a fallen soldier and otherwise stand proudly and sharply for our nation, our flag and in the face of danger, I stand with you. I stand for you and honor your service to our great nation this Veterans Day.

Viper One Six – Out.

Contact Dave Shearman at viperonesix@gmail.com or visit his website, www.viperonesix.com