“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I once served alongside men better than I. I watched them give selflessly — in the small things, offering me the only bowl of hot soup after a cold winter patrol, and in the big things, paying the ultimate price after volunteering to be the first through the door on a counterterrorism raid.

I have seen those things that separate war in the abstract from war in reality: How hard it is to successfully intervene in another country, no matter how noble the goal, no matter how great the effort. The difference between writing "conduct counterinsurgency" in a white paper and asking it of an 18-year old kid in 120-degree heat. The satisfaction of successfully capturing an insurgent — but then the angst of wondering what hope we were offering to the young family he left behind. The luck of getting credit undeserved. The burden of failing in epic, unfixable ways.

I have learned what it means to owe something. To realize you have to earn that you survived when others did not.

I will honor the unique chances I have been given by investing myself in the places where others spent their blood. Over the last two years, I have returned to Iraq and Afghanistan — but this time, wearing local dress and armed with a notebook instead of combat fatigues and an M4 rifle. I work with local entrepreneurs, who dream of creating a more prosperous and peaceful life. Their optimism can heal wounded spirits and fragile countries.

When great sacrifices are made, they do not pass quietly into the night, but call loudly for the rest of us to fulfill their promise, their legacy, their dreams. I have a debt to repay.

— Jake Cusack