Last Friday, I had the distinguished honor and pleasure to represent Dog Tag Brewing Foundation at the 7th Annual Cocktails for Courage Gala. Cocktails for Courage is an annual event in support of the Captain Kyle R. Van De Giesen Memorial Fund hosted by Kyle's family, including his wife, Megan, mother, Ruthie, sister, Caitlin and close friend, Katie.
Being asked to represent the Dog Tag Brewing Foundation was a tremendous task for me. On the one hand, as the event sponsor, I was asked to provide opening remarks on Dog Tag Brewing Foundation's contribution of an $8,000 Legacy Grant to underwrite a portion of the night's costs. Humbled and proud as I was to do so, I was not expecting to speak to a crowd of nearly 500 of Kyle's closest friends, family members, and other folks from the North Attleboro, Massachusetts community.
The biggest reason, however, for the daunting weight of this task was that this would be the first time I would speak publicly about Kyle since we lost him on 26 October 2009.
And that had me terrified.
I was there in Afghanistan serving with Kyle when we lost him and the details of that night are forever burned into my memory. So much of that experience I never talk about. Yet many of those memories come back to me, often without warning, and never at 'the right time.'
To say that I was nervous and unsure how my remarks would go would be an understatement. Speaking to a crowd, I can do. That wouldn't be a problem. But looking out to folks that I have not seen in years and several others only in reference or pictures? I took the podium, unsettled, and unsure if the words I had spent hours rehearsing would come back to me.
And then, I looked at Colin and Avery, Kyle's son and daughter.
Their eyes, with so much of their father in them, assured me that everything would be OK. Just as Kyle was there to calm my fears in combat, so too were his kids in this moment of personal uncertainty.
The remainder of the night's events were simply remarkable. Cocktails for Courage is the perfect mix of remembrance and revelry.
If it wasn't the live auction of amazing items, it was Colin kicking things off with his rendition of the National Anthem.
If it wasn't the camaraderie with the Fire Department's color guard and recognition of Veterans in the crowd, it was Avery sharing a poem of courage.
If it wasn't the amazing food and dancing, it was Megan Van De Giesen, all smiles and full of life, being the inspiration for us all.
All of this, together, so that we too may have the courage to celebrate the lives of those that we lost.
The effort and impact of this night will be long felt. Through everyone's support, Cocktails for Courage will net close to $30,000. This means more support for scholarships and new elements to the Kyle R. Van De Giesen Outdoor Leadership Course.
I came to North Attleboro last Friday, unsure of how I was going to feel. How was I going to reconcile nearly seven years of bottled up emotion? Would I even be able to finish the event?
I left that night completely inspired, proud to be an American, proud of my service to this nation, and honored to have had the opportunity to know a man like Kyle Van De Giesen.
All of this because of the courage and inspiration from family and a community that came together to celebrate the life of one remarkable man.
Thank you, Megan. This meant everything to me.
Dog Tag Brewing Foundation
Honor. Educate. Inspire. Celebrate.
Dog Tag Brewing Foundation is a combat Veteran-run nonprofit that partners with Gold Star Families to celebrate the lives of our nation's Fallen Warriors.
Interested in contributing to the Foundation's mission of supporting and enhancing Gold Star Family initiatives? Please take a moment and visit our Call to Action Page. Your support matters!