A couple of days ago I received a text message from a friend of mine. It read, "You better crack a beer open tonight, I hope I don't need to tell you why".
The text message was completely unnecessary. I absolutely knew why. February 18th marked one year since I was on a QRF mission with my squad, the night we rolled over an IED laid in by Iraqi insurgents, and the night Blake Howey was killed in that blast.
That event changed a lot of things for a lot of people. For me, it marked the first time that I ever saw combat, if that's what you want to call an IED blast. It was the first time I've ever had a friend die. It was the first time that I really truly feared for my life. It was the first time that someone has actually made an attempt to kill me. It was the first time that I ever wanted to actually make an attempt to kill someone else.
In about another week and a half I'll toast another beer to another friend, Nathan Windsor, who was killed in an ambush two weeks after Blake.
A year removed from these incidents, it still seems like it happened in another life. There is nothing I can say twelve months later to make the loss any easier for their families. Just know that earlier this week there was a flurry of text messages and phone calls reminding friends to raise their glass to a fallen brother.