In late 2009 I received a call from my great-nephew. He said; “Uncle Bobby, I think I’m going to join the Army. Veteran Nalito BeltranI’ve always wanted to do it. Since you did it I want to talk to you about it.”

We had a lengthy conversation about his choice and I recall feeling proud that my example had guided him to do the same for his own journey. 

I had a special connection with Nalito. I babysat him on occasion in college. A favorite memory is busting him running his finger through our cake at our wedding. Joining the Army was his way of doing what we all want in life – to take control of his own story.

He enlisted in December of 2009. The following July, he arrived at his duty station in Fort Sam Houston, TX. We talked occasionally and he would share exciting things he was learning. He was a Radio Operator and he was getting the opportunity to work on some really cool Beyond The Horizon projects in Guatemala and Panama. BTH is a humanitarian and civic mission deploying U.S. military engineers and medical professionals to provide humanitarian services.

When we connected I could feel his pride as he shared his stories with me. He was a giver and these missions made him feel like he was part of something bigger than himself. He knew I could relate to his excitement because of my own experience in the Army. I would tell him I was proud of him and encourage him to enjoy the unique opportunity he had. He was a long ways from his hometown of El Paso, TX and even further from the kid he was when he enlisted in 2009.

Nalito was on his 3rd BTH deployment building a school for children in need in Los Limones, Guatemala when he died suddenly in a training exercise on April 22nd, 2014. I vividly remember how sad I felt when I was told. I hurt even more for the hole this left in his Mom’s heart and the pain his 2 brothers felt. The sadness peaked when we attended his burial ceremony and felt the collective heartache of his military family. Words can’t describe the experience.

Nalito’s story ended too soon. And like many other Veterans who have paid the ultimate price on our behalf, we’ll never know the collective good he would have done.

What we can do to honor Veterans like Nalito on Memorial Day? Ask ourselves a very important question; Are we giving more than we’re taking?

Nalito’s story ended while giving. Veterans give every day on our behalf. For those we honor on this day – they gave the ultimate gift, their story. Veterans give better than anyone.

We should honor their courage by giving more than we take. Imagine the possibilities.

All Hail the Volunteer.

Veteran Hernaldo Beltran


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