He was an Eagle Scout. He was an athlete. He loved American cars. He wore shorts in the dead of the winter. He was the first one into a conversation, and usually the last one out. He remembered every one's name, and when and where he last saw them. He always answered when anyone called.
On May 21, 2009, an insurgent with a bomb in Baghdad's Dora market ended Jason George's life. Our country lost a great soldier that day. And I lost a good friend.
After West Point, Jason and I took the same oath to support and defend our country as Army second lieutenants. We spent the next eight years serving across the globe. We both left active duty in 2002. He went on to earn an MBA at the University of Michigan (and the undying admiration of hundreds of his classmates). He launched a successful consulting career in Chicago. He became a Cubs fan, and remained a Michigan sports fanatic. But the Army called him back in 2009, and he answered his country's call... again. Voluntarily and without hesitation, Jason acknowledged that his service was not over. He could not sit at home while others deployed to fight this war for him. We told him that we still needed him -- so he put his career on hold, raised his right hand and took a second oath to defend his country, and deployed to Iraq. He returned home several weeks later in a coffin, draped in an American flag.
Jason did not have to answer that second call. He might have found a way to avoid it. Several years after his death, I now realize that Jason needed to answer it. He was driven to serve a purpose much larger than himself. He had not found this sense of purpose in his life as a "civilian." He found it in the military.
I do what I do today because of Jason. Early in our careers, we shared a commitment to serve our country. But Jason's commitment went further -- he served again, when he was needed. I believe that, like Jason, this generation of veterans is also ready to answer a second call: a call to serve on a new front line, here at home. I am committed to giving them a chance to find new missions in their communities and the opportunity to redeploy their desire to serve in their neighborhoods. Their legacy will live in the proud faces of successful young students, in the hopeful sighs of the impoverished, in grateful hugs from the broken, and in the reflective smiles of the elderly. Our veterans will answer this second call to serve their neighbors... if we give it.
Jason's legacy, and the legacy of thousands of other military service members who have given their lives since 9/11, is one of voluntary service. For me, this weekend marks another year honoring Jason's legacy. I miss him, and always will. But I am also gratified that today, thousands of veterans still carry on his legacy in communities all across the country.