Working as a military journalist for the better part of my adult life has hardened me in some sense. I’ve seen and reported too many times on the cost of war and countless patriots and American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.

I was assigned a story today that makes me reflect on what the words “ultimate sacrifice” really mean … at least to me … and I’m fairly confident in saying that my circle of friends, colleagues and our readership feel the same way.

I’m honored to write this story and I’m hoping that some will read it and maybe rethink their position on our brothers-in-arms and what it means to raise your hand in defense of this nation.

By no means is this an avenue to exploit the situation. In fact, many before us have come home under our great flag, but in this one instance, I feel it’s important to show the impact this one person, our fallen brother, had on a plane full of people.

We reported earlier in the week about the death of US Special Forces Green Beret WO1 Shawn Thomas of 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group who died February 2 while conducting advising operations to counter Boko Haram in Niger.

Today we stumbled upon a Facebook post of W01 Thomas’ arrival at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. It’s five minutes that left an aching in my heart … and an aching in the hearts of those who witnessed the reunion of Thomas’ remains with his wife.

The video undeniably shows the cost of conflict, but what it doesn’t show is the totality of heartbreak Thomas’ death leaves behind. You see, he wasn’t just a soldier, he was a son, a husband and the father to four beautiful children … the youngest of which will probably never be able to fully understand why her father didn’t come home.

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I watched the video over and over, and with tears, I felt his wife’s grief as she walked to her husband’s side, placed her hand on the flag-covered coffin then was consoled by other family members. As those on the plane watched, with tears and much respect, the honor guard came to their brother’s side, lifted him with honor and dignity and placed his remains in the hearse. I thought to myself how hard it must have been for his wife to walk away from her fallen husband. I wondered what she said to her grieving children. I wondered why so many in our county do not understand what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice.

As the video concludes, the plane’s captain comes over the loud speaker and thanks everyone on the plane for their patience and understanding for the delay.

As he was speaking, I too was giving thanks. I was praying and thanking my brother Shawn Thomas for his unselfish sacrifice. I thanked him for loving our country and believing in the meaning of service before self, and I thanked his family for their unselfish sacrifice … a sacrifice they will feel forever. Then I prayed for those on the plane and thanked God they only have to feel what it’s like to sacrifice for a short five minutes.

God Bless you Shawn and your entire family … may you rest in peace.

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