To Bend and not Break: A Hero's Visit
How do you define a hero? Is it a professional athlete? A police officer? A firefighter? A member of the military? A politician? However you personally define what a hero is, there are several personal traits that remain constant through all definitions.
“I define a hero as someone who puts everyone else ahead of themselves,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “Heroes are people who see bad things happen to other people or see injustice in the world, and they stand up for the little guy. Heroes come in many different forms. They come in battle, obviously, but a hero can also be someone like a single mother who works all day trying to make ends meet. Anyone can be a hero if they are put in the right situation.”
On Friday afternoon, the Nashville Predators were visited by a man that many would call a hero, but that hero would simply say, “I was just doing my job.”
Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha (pronounced ROE-muh-shay) was invited by Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile to fly to Phoenix and spend some time with his team during the first stage of the Preds’ 17-day road trip.
This is not the first time Poile and Trotz have asked members of the military speak to the team, but Romesha is different than any previous military speaker, he is one of the most recent recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“To meet a person of great stature, like Staff Sergeant Romesha, is a really special thing for us,” Trotz said. “I’m told he’s a big deal because of what he’s done. I mean, the president has to salute him, so that’s how big of a deal it is. The president doesn’t have to salute too many people. I think this is a special experience, and we are very honored that he has joined us on this trip.”
Romesha received the award from President Barack Obama on Feb. 11, 2013, in a ceremony at the White House. At the time of the ceremony, he was the fourth living Medal of Honor recipient for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (following Salvatore Giunta, Leroy Petry, Dakota Meyer), and the 11th overall since Vietnam.
In first meeting Staff Sergeant Romesha, a man with a humble and quiet disposition, one would find it hard to believe that he gathered his men under intense enemy contact, led a counterattack to secure his forward operating base that had been overrun by more than 300 Taliban fighters and saved countless American lives in the process.
“You don’t go out looking to receive the Medal of Honor,” Staff Sergeant Romesha said. “It’s not something a bunch of guys throw tickets in a pot to be drawn for. It just comes back to doing your job. For me that day, it wasn’t one guy trying to be John Rambo out there, it was my whole platoon, my whole team. Everyone was out there doing their piece of the pie. We were relying on one another and we understood that we all had to pull our own weight.”
During the 12-hour battle, Romesha was wounded in the neck and upper body after a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed the generator he was using as cover while trying to rescue some of his soldiers that had been pinned down by enemy fire. Despite his injuries and losing eight Americans, and eventual abandonment of Combat Outpost Keating, the fight Romesha and his men put up that day has gone down as one of the greatest triumphs of the war in Afghanistan.
While Romesha remains humble about his courage under fire, it was a display of leadership that Congress referred to as, “gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Section Leader with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3, 2009.”
“It’s just funny that what I thought was a pretty harebrained idea turned out to be the right choice,” Romesha said. “Let’s go counterattack as we are getting overrun from every direction. I had five guys that followed me that day. When I asked for volunteers, those five guys held up their arms and said, ‘Sergeant Romesha, we’ll go with you anywhere.’ It is a very humbling experience to be around team members like that. We did lose eight guys that day, and some people would look at it as a defeat in a way – we had given up the terrain, we lost those guys and we had more that were injured and wounded. But for me, it was a victory, simply because I got to sit there and see my guys show the true spirit of being a warrior and a team player. Everyone had to dig deep and understand that, at a moment in time when you are facing the worst of the worst, you can always find that spark or the source of ignition to light a fire under your guys. We can all bend, but we don’t have to break.”
That display of leadership not only caught the eye of Congress, but it also caught the eye of USA Hockey and Poile. Which is why Romesha was asked to join the team in Phoenix and speak to them about leadership, teamwork and facing adversity.
“Through my undertakings with USA Hockey, I’ve had the opportunity to build a relationship with Operation Home Front, which is a charity that helps out members of our military,” Poile said. “The thing the military does on a much bigger scale than we do, is the team concept. They have to train together, they have to prepare together and they have to win together, if you will, in all the things that they do. There is a lot of commonality there and I think it will be a really good experience for our players.”
A longtime hockey fan, Romesha was excited to meet the team and to tell them about some of the finer points of leadership and overcoming adversity.
“To have the opportunity to speak to professional athletes is a great honor,” Romesha said. “But I do it to honor the memory of the eight guys we lost. So their story will live on and the message of teamwork lives on. It’s just been a great process to be a part of.
“In professional sports, you always hear about the all-stars and the one guy on a team that always makes a difference. The military is the same way. You always want that guy on your team, that hot shot, who will put you over the edge. But really, it is too easy to take that one person out of the equation. Once that guy is gone, what are you left with? You need that bond to gel that team, to gel that organization that will keep everyone firing together. You have to play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Team will always get you further than one individual effort ever could."
Trotz believes that continued interactions between the team and members of the military, or other individuals who have made the most of extraordinary situations, will continue to strengthen the bond between his players.
“We have a lot of guys on the team who really treasure what the armed forces do,” Trotz said. “We’ve actually had a lot of speakers come in this year. That has been a part of my mandate of changing the culture to get back to that ‘Predator Way’ of playing. Anyway we can learn through people coming in and speaking, sharing their experiences and giving insight, we’re all for that because I think that is a part of pounding the rock. That rock is part of our culture – you’ve got to be hard, you’ve got to be tough, you’d got to be able to fight through adversity and you have to be all in. I want these guys to be committed to the goal. These speakers are a big part of how we do that. It is part of our team building and part of our organizational development.”
Poile echoed Trotz’s hopes of how Staff Sergeant Romesha’s message would impact his team.
“It’s all about facing adversity, it’s all about being up against extremely tough odds and it’s about using teamwork and perseverance to overcome those odds,” Poile said. “I think there are a lot of things from Staff Sergeant’s Romesha’s story that our players can identify with and use, as a team, to be successful in the future.”
The hope is that Romesha’s message that true heroes bend, but do not break, will remain with the team as they face the trials of the 2013-14 season.