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Every Veterans Day, Americans proudly honor those who have worn the uniform on behalf of our country. For Bryan Dilberian’s family, and mine, this year’s commemoration will be a somber one. On October 1, Bryan, a 36-year-old retired Army specialist who served in Afghanistan, passed away. His family lost a brother, an uncle, and a son. I lost a friend. And our country lost a hero. His passing is a sobering reminder that all Americans must support the current and former members of our military who have made profound sacrifices for our country.
I first met Bryan in 2015. Because of life-altering injuries sustained from an IED blast in Afghanistan, Bryan wore prosthetics on both legs and his left arm. It would be easy for someone in that condition to shut themselves out from the world. But – consistent with his unflagging enthusiasm for life – what could have been a barrier became a way for Bryan to build relationships. Our conversations about his injuries morphed into deep discussions about football and life.
My family was proud to partner with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to provide Bryan with a fully-customized, mortgage-free smart home, designed to make everyday tasks possible for veterans who return from service with severe physical injuries or disabilities. This house gave Bryan more than a place to live. It also gave him freedom and autonomy, which he maximized to the fullest. Said Bryan, “When I came back to life I made sure I was going to do things with my injuries no one has done before.” He sure did. His obituary recounts his love of traveling, fishing, bowling, and darts. In 2018, Bryan even rode a customized motorcycle from Brooklyn to Sturgis, South Dakota – the site of the most famous motorcycle rally in America every year.
My family continued to keep in touch with Bryan and his family throughout the years. He allowed us the privilege of honoring him at a Jets game. His presence honored us, too: My two sons, Brick and Jack, were able to learn what he had been through and why it mattered. Though they were initially unsure how to respond to him, his infectious optimism helped them come out of their shells. This opportunity to learn about the heart of a hero was a moment my sons will never forget. In an era when fewer than 10 percent of Americans have served in the military, we need more of these kinds of poignant interactions between veterans and the civilian community. They are essential for fostering an understanding of all that our troops have given to defend our freedoms.
A few weeks ago, Bryan’s family informed us that he had passed away – news that, for me, triggered both sorrow and reflection on the incredible impact Bryan made on the people in his life. The grief Bryan’s family is now suffering is more common than Americans may realize. In 2021, 517 other families lost a loved one after they returned from active duty, according to a recent Department of Defense report. That staggering number should re-ignite a national effort to provide the recognition, services, and support our veterans deserve.
On November 6, the New York Jets recognized the men and women of our armed services at our annual Salute to Service game. This special game is just one way we honor and celebrate those serving our country. We continue to partner with Tunnels to Towers, and their campaign of providing smart homes to veterans. We also work with the Travis Manion Foundation, which empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes to lead character and leadership development programs for the next generation of Americans.
In this way, the Travis Manion Foundation helps many former service members leverage their leadership skills and improve their overall well-being through community engagement, new relationships, and a renewed sense of purpose. I thank my friend, West Point graduate and Army Ranger, Alex Gorsky at Johnson & Johnson for introducing me to this visionary organization.
I mention these initiatives in hopes of inspiring anyone who reads this to action. Honoring our American heroes in uniform and working with veteran-focused non-profit organizations similar to Tunnel to Towers and the Travis Manion Foundation is a task for all Americans. When you see a service member or veteran, thank them for their service. Listen to their stories. Find a way to help them on their journey of reintegration and reunification with family and friends when their time in the military is over. And remember those whom we have lost.
My friend Bryan once said of his service, “I would do it a million times over. There’s nothing to regret about it. I did something for the country, and I’m proud of myself.” This Veterans Day, let’s repay the valor of heroes like Bryan and support our veterans. You won’t regret your act of service, either.
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