SALT LAKE CITY — I have the great honor of serving on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, a responsibility that requires that I spend a lot of time in very troubled and chaotic parts of the world. During these travels, I see U.S. military personnel serving under some of the most hostile and difficult circumstances that you can imagine.
It is inspiring to see these soldiers serving so proudly and with such great courage and dignity. They and their families — for let's not forget that every one of them leave loved ones behind who must carry on without them — make this great sacrifice willingly. I often ask these amazing young men and women why they are willing to serve under such difficult circumstance. I've heard many good reasons, but one young lieutenant probably said it best: "Because I love my country," he said.
Every time I see these warriors and their selfless sacrifice, it makes me grateful. Grateful for their example. Grateful for our nation that embodies ideals that are worthy of such a sacrifice. Grateful for a nation that could produce such selfless young soldiers.
Ronald Reagan is one of my heroes. One of his greatest talents was the ability to sum up complicated ideas in such a way that we understood it down into the center of our souls. He once said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."
I was blessed that my parents taught me to love my country and to want to protect our freedoms. My father was a pilot in World War II. It was my honor to serve as a pilot in the Air Force for 14 years. Five of my brothers have served in the military as well. My parents had a family creed that has been passed down now through three generations: This family's creed is Duty, Honor, Service to God, Family and Country.
It's important to realize the fight that Ronald Reagan talked about continues today. As we watch events unfold around us, we are constantly reminded that we live in a dangerous world. Knowing these are difficult times, we cannot understate our gratitude for our service members who sacrifice every day to protect our freedoms and way of life.
Lt. Col. Jay Hess, from my hometown of Farmington, is a great example of someone who 'fought for, protected, and handed on" our freedom. Col. Hess spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war at the infamous Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam, one of the most despicable prisons the world has ever seen. Prisoners there endured incredibly miserable conditions, including starvation, torture, beatings, unsanitary conditions and months of solitary confinement. After 2 1/2 years, Col. Hess was finally able to read a letter written to him by his family. He commented that he smiled while reading the letter, but after a short while it hurt because those smile muscles were gone. He hadn't smiled for 2 1/2 years.
It was a joyous day when he was finally released and reunited with his family, 5 1/2 years after capture. Despite all of this hardship, Hess looked back on his life and experience and said, "How could I be so lucky? So fortunate? It's a good life."
Col. Hess is a true American hero.
But let's remember that such heroism continues today. In dark and dangerous places all around the globe, American soldiers are doing what they can to bring stability and safety to strategically important parts of the world. Today, we should remember them. Thank them. Keep them and their families in our prayers. What we have asked to them to do isn't easy. They deserve our gratitude and support.
Originally published on November 11, 2015 on KSL.com