09/20/2013 01:47 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

Believing in America


What does the word America mean to you? I often ask myself: What is America? America is the country that fosters the idea that you can do anything you want to if you set your mind to do it. And, when you truly take the time to think about it, you can see that America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth.

America looks like most other places, so what makes it different? As a nation, thanks in no small part to those who serve and protect us each day, we believe in the IDEA of America. It's our collective belief and mindset, along with the time-honored American principles of freedom, independence and entrepreneurship that sets this great nation of ours apart from the rest.

Every chance I get, I try to engage with young people. They believe in whatever their parents and the other adults around them will allow them to believe in. That means it is our responsibility and duty as adults to let their mind roam free of perceived roadblocks. I remember being very young and being told: Dakota you can grow up and be whatever you want. You just have to work hard at it.

What happens to that notion as we get older? What keeps us from being more positive as we age? I can tell you exactly what happens: one-by-one, for whatever the reason, some people stop believing in America. That starts to impact and change the attitude of everyone around them.

Sometimes, it's much easier to use excuses about how and why we can't do something, instead of focusing on meeting our goals. At one point, after I got home from Afghanistan, I got into that rut too. But I soon realized that for this great country to continue its greatness, we all must believe in ourselves and our nation enough to stand up for what's right.

Just last night, I was on a plane ride home, surrounded by millionaires talking about their fancy watches. I dozed off, and woke up just as the plane was landing. One of the flight attendants thought she recognized me and asked me, just to be sure. When I confirmed that I was indeed a Medal of Honor recipient, the crew announced it over the loudspeaker and everyone on the plane applauded, even the millionaires. I was deeply humbled by it, but even more so, proud to be an American.

I challenge you to take time out of your day each day to give a young person the encouragement to be great, instead of letting them simply settle for being good. Start believing in America again through your words and actions, so that our kids will have a good example to pattern themselves after.

Just remember: we all live in the greatest country on the face of the earth, America. Without belief in the future success of our great nation, we have nothing.