HomeSocietyA fallen colleague's legacy lives on each Memorial Day

A fallen colleague’s legacy lives on each Memorial Day

I’ll never forget the spring day 14 years ago when my CIA colleague who was serving as our chief of air operations greeted me at the airport landing zone upon my return from leave to a Middle East war zone.

A sandstorm had appeared on the horizon and I expected to be told we would have to hold in place before traveling on to the CIA base. But the news was instead unexpectedly tragic: One of our most experienced paramilitary officers, who had a distinguished military career before joining the CIA, had been killed overnight during a sensitive operation. 

An officer in the Marine Corps, he was humble, selflessly dedicated to the mission and his comrades, and extraordinarily proficient in his craft. He was revered and respected by his CIA, military and foreign colleagues. Gen. David Petraeus, then on active duty before going on to head the CIA, made a point of attending the officer’s memorial service at our base. 

Our team serving on the front lines mourned our fallen officer and consoled one another. And honoring his memory, we carried on with the mission. But there was not a day during that deployment when my colleagues and I did not think of him, especially the lessons we learned from him about dedicating oneself to doing the hardest things the right way. 

I cannot reveal this officer’s identity, but he has been at the forefront of my mind each Memorial Day since he gave his life in service to our grateful nation. He was a role model, a leader who was a beacon of excellence for all who had the honor of knowing him and for those who followed in his footsteps. 

There is no more sacred and somber day than Memorial Day, when we commemorate the men and women who died in military service, including in combat or as a result of wounds sustained during combat. We take time on this holiday to reflect on their service, express our deep appreciation to them for preserving the freedoms we enjoy, and support their grieving loved ones. 

Two great oceans protect the U.S. and there is an understandable desire not to become entangled in the internal affairs of other nations. But our increasingly interconnected world has reduced our strategic depth. Adversaries can reach us in spite of the geographic separation, which once secured our homeland. 

More than ever before, our national security strategy must incorporate the late Charles Krauthammer’s “forward defense” paradigm, where we detect and preempt threats “over there” to the “left of boom” — before enemy attacks can reach our shores. Although we rely on intelligence collection and diplomacy, we still need to be prepared to fight, against determined foes like Islamic State and al Qaeda and their affiliates in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. 

In “Only Cry for the Living: Memos From Inside the ISIS Battlefield,” Hollie McKay poignantly tells the story of the war against the jihadist network, which grew from the region’s Petri dish of “deep-seated sectarian, tribal and historical grievances.” Ms. McKay describes ISIS hanging civilians in the streets en masse, mowing down children with a forklift, using chemical weapons against innocent civilians, and viciously attacking the innocent Yazidi population. 

Just as we have against other ruthless adversaries, the U.S. did the heavy lifting, especially in building the strategy relying extensively on U.S. air support and logistics, to roll back and defeat the terrorist. 

“What is war?”, Ms. McKay asks rhetorically throughout her book. War can be a victory she writes “that resembles an apocalypse.” My relatives who fought in the last century’s two world wars — especially my great uncle who was attacked on the continent with poison chemical weapons during World War I — would relate. 

As the Marines proudly sing, war is about defending our nation “from dawn to setting sun,” in “every clime and place.” 

On this Memorial Day, my family and I will pause to observe a moment of silence. We will remember the men and women who died in service to our nation and say a prayer for them as we celebrate their accomplishments and think of our brave patriots currently serving in the most dangerous locations around the globe. 

And like so many of my CIA and military colleagues, I’ll be thinking of that fallen officer, his extraordinary legacy, and the ultimate sacrifice he made on our nation’s behalf. 

• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.

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