To all my family, friends and fans -
I'm writing this out to all of you after attending an event that turned out to be one of the most moving evenings I've ever had...
I had the honor and privilege last night of attending The Basic School Instructor Battalion 236th Marine Corps Birthday Ball at the Greater Richmond Convention Center with Corporal Kelsey DeSantis...
I knew I would have an evening that I wouldn't forget... Something I could tell my friends about. What I didn't know was how moved I would be by the whole experience.
I've always been very vocal about my support of our Armed Forces. I've always felt like they offered us the opportunity to live our lives freely without the fear that so many other nations have to endure still to this day. And, they do it without asking for anything in return. I had this very feeling walking into this dinner. So, to say I was stoked to be there would be more than accurate.
As the evening got started, I met Kelsey and we made our way to the ballroom where the Marine Ball was going to be held. I stopped in an area designated as a kind of VIP for some of the officers, I think. I took some photos and shook hands with some of the men and women who take such great care of our freedom. It was nice to be there already.
Then, we moved to the ballroom where the dinner was set up... For a short while, I had the opportunity to sit with Kelsey, get to know her and get a tiny glimpse into what her life as a Marine was like. She talked about her training in mixed martial arts with a passion, a discipline, and a respect. It reminded me of how I hear my favorite athletes talk about their sport or, how I hear my favorites among my peers in music and film talk about their craft.
We sat in this huge ballroom and were the only ones there as, we had beaten the rest of the soldiers who were on their way in. So, we got a decent amount of time to chat before the ceremony started.
She seemed to me to be so humble and honest... Very cool. She also simultaneously seemed like she was nervous about the whole evening and if I was going to enjoy myself. "Are you ok?" she asked 2 or 3 times. "I hope you are having fun. I know you will once my crew of friends get here to the table." I have to tell you, it's not every day that I meet a 23 year old girl and she's more worried about if I'm having fun or if I'm comfortable! It hit me all of a sudden that these were the type of people that look after us and our freedom... Humble, concerned for others before themselves... This was the type of person our Marine Corps was building. I was really blown away.
It seemed like all of a sudden I was surrounded by her great friends and fellow Marines as the closest ones to her made their way to our table. She again assured me that I was going to love all of her friends--that they were a "kick-ass" group of people.
She couldn't have been more right. I laughed and laughed with all of them almost immediately and felt very close to them... They reminded me of my friends (the ones I like, at least). Cool, un-affected, and real. This was going to be a fun night.
What happened then took me by such surprise that I was almost brought to tears. In fact, our whole table was...
They started the ceremony. And, the next thing I knew I was watching a video about Pearl Harbor/WW2 and the September 11 terrorist attacks... It was a video with some first-hand accounts from some Marines who were there... Telling their stories of the sights and sounds of war and rescue. So vivid and real. So honest but, so filled with a sense of compassion and adoration for this wonderful country. They spoke with a pride that only they could have acquired through their experience as a US Marine. There was a common theme that I began to notice as well... No matter what the situation. No matter how dire...
They were there FIRST.
There on the front lines.
No questions... Just reaction.
While this tribute was playing, you could hear a pin drop. It was a surreal moment to be in that room with so many of our great Marines who have such a different type of connection to those stories. One that we who don't serve will NEVER understand. It was familial. It was like they were listening to their own blood brothers. I glanced around the room at young men and women, spouses and soldiers... At kids way beyond their years, really... All so deeply entwined. Not just by battle, even though we who have never endured anything remotely close to those experiences and have NO position to comment on... But, by having such life changing experiences through them and to not ever waver in their love and respect for our homeland. That's what I saw. A faith in us that has been tested time and time again. And, through it all, NEVER a drop of doubt.
I was truly moved.
The evening went on and we ate and took photos and drank and made jokes.
There were some speeches that prompted many "huahs" and applause. There was laughs. We even danced a little.
I felt so proud to be there. I felt like I was getting a chance to be among my heroes. It's funny too because a lot of them are SO younger than me.
The evening wound down for me as, I had to catch a plane. But, I have to say that I had so much fun with Kelsey and her crew of friends. They were just really nice people... Classy Marines but, not without a great sense of humor. Real individuals but, not without a sense of community.
I said my goodbyes to them but, not before I got a chance to tell them how much the evening had meant to me. They made me feel so welcome to be there and I'll never forget it.
We all have our own individual views on war... But, doesn't that speak to just another thing that makes this country so special?? The fact that we can all wake up every morning and BE individual with a pure sense of freedom..? But, one thing that can't be argued is that it's because of the people who VOLUNTEER their lives to make sure that it's protected at all times. And, like I said before, doing so while asking for nothing in return...
To all of you that serve every day for us... Ensuring our freedom, I say: My deepest gratitude to you. I've met so many of my heroes... From Michael Jordan to Michael Jackson. And, nothing makes me feel more honor and pride than when I get to meet one of you. Last night changed my life and I will never forget it.
To people like me who get to benefit from this type of person... One with character and courage. With strength and bravery. With humility and honor... I say: Send your thanks. Do it however you can. Write a letter, type an email... Hell, buy 'em a beer next time you run into someone from our Armed Forces in a bar. When they say thank you for that drink that cost you 3 bucks, they'll mean it. They won't take it for granted and, they won't forget it.
Thank you Corporal Kelsey DeSantis. Thank you for inviting me. And, thank you for being my hero.
- Justin Timberlake