I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at BYU's Presidential Review in celebration of Veterans Day. In preparing my speech, I thought it would make an appropriate blog post as well. Below are some highlights from my talk - these are just a few messages I shared with the Army and Air Force ROTC cadets.
Recently, I welcomed my first grandchild to this world. His name is Taika and he’s a chubby little bundle of joy born to my son Bronson and his wife Hillary. Is there a better symbol of comfort and peace than this: a baby snuggled in blanket for a nice warm nap?
Think about the warm blanket a baby enjoys and contrast that in your mind with what a soldier sleeps under, in combat. How many shivering, sleepless nights have been spent by soldiers through the years, under the stars with no blanket? Are there some of those nights ahead for you? For each such night, I'd like to thank you for your sacrifice, because it’s such sacrifice that allows this grand society of ours sleep under a blanket of security and peace. It’s what lets millions of us rest in our own warm blankets in our homes, tucked-in safe-and-sound.
America was born from military conflict. And it survives in no small measure because of military readiness. Without the blanket-less nights of soldiers, the rest of us would be exposed to the cold winds of tyranny, anarchy, and a thousand other evils.
Which brings me to another use of the blanket theme. Our society is a grand patchwork quilt, with different segments of the quilt representing groups from different backgrounds. That’s our heritage in the United States: e pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
What I have felt in the days leading up to today is a desire that our nation’s soldiers and their families feel more fully connected with, and celebrated by, the rest of us in society. I think it’s increasingly easy to think of our military as a separate appendage to our society, rather than a central and valued part of it. In other words, I think some people have come to see military members and military families as detached from the quilt of American society. This is not as it should be.
A good friend of mine shared with me the idea that there are two kinds of connections people can form, bonding connections and bridging connections.
Bonding connections are relatively easy. They are the ties we feel based on what we have in common with others, like bowlers at a bowling convention. They are based on how alike we are.
Bridging connections are different. Bridging is connecting with someone different from you. These connections can be harder to form. Generally, one side or both needs to really extend to build these bridges. An example of a bridging connection would be one religion building ties with another religion that has strongly different beliefs.
I personally believe that the military families in our midst and the non-military families can use a little more bridging and bonding with each other, to strengthen our societal quilt.
I cannot talk about all this without thinking of Major Brent Taylor. For so many of us civilians, his life has become a bridge into the lives of military families.
At one point, Brent was a cadet here at BYU. In more ways than one, you cadets here today are walking in his footsteps. Brent, like many of you, was a talented and bright student who knew the military would be part of his path. His wife to be, Jennie, who he met here, had the same mindset. They both felt a deep sense of patriotism and knew Brent was bound to be serving his country as a soldier.
But Brent also wanted to serve in other ways. When I met him, he was serving as mayor of his city, North Ogden. But when an opportunity came for him to serve again as a full-time soldier overseas, he willingly put aside his mayor hat and instead threw on his camo gear.
I wish I could show you a video of Brent, jumping on the trampoline with his kids, meeting with political leaders, or posing next to tanks. If you have time later, I invite you to get online and watch one of the tributes to him because he was a gem of a person, as is his dynamic wife Jennie.
Throughout their lives, Brent and Jennie knit themselves into the hearts of those they associated with, forming bridging and bonding connections wherever they served. If you want to get better at leadership and service, get to know the lives of Brent and Jennie Taylor. That’s my one piece of advice for the day.
A year ago this month, Brent’s life was eternally knit into the fabric of our nation when he was killed in action, while serving in Afghanistan. Brent and Jennie knew the dangers he faced, each time they sent him off to combat zones. Brent loved his seven children and his wife with all his heart. But time and time again, he chose to place his life on the altar of military service, willing to live and to die for his fellow Americans and the cause of freedom.
It’s my hope that the Taylors’ sacrifice and example will strengthen our patriotism. That it will foster renewed love and respect for servicemen, servicewomen, and their families. That the fabric of our society will find new strength through their offering. And that we will all see more clearly the connection that exists between military service and the thousand blissful pleasures we enjoy in a free society—everything from fly fishing on a beautiful fall day, to participating in a book club, or yes, even playing or watching football.
Even more, I pray we recognize that our fundamental rights, including our rights of worship, are gifts bought with a price. May we remember that whatever pursuits are dearest to each of us, we owe so much of them to possibly the most significant patch in our entire American quilt, a patch representing people like you who have dedicated a portion of your lives to military service. You are not separate from this quilt. You are our brothers. You are our sisters. We appreciate you and celebrate you for who you are, what you stand for, and for the gifts you give to us.
God bless you. And thank you for allowing me to be with you today. Thank you.