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Cpl. Brandon Garner. (Source: Brandon Garner)

As he looked across the desert sands at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Cpl. Brandon Garner of the 23rd Truck Company of the United States Marines thought about just why he chose to serve his country.

Was it his family legacy, his childhood dream or his fierce patriotism that rushed through him like white-water rapids?

Truthfully it was all of those, but they were all overshadowed by one all-important reason: He woke up every day and chose to serve because of the men and women who have died in uniforms just like the one he was wearing.

Garner’s service touches me differently than anyone else’s.

Just like my maternal grandfather’s service in the Navy, my paternal grandfather’s service in the Army, and my dad’s service in the Air National Guard, Garner’s sacrifice means something more to me because he is family — he is my cousin.

For as long as I can remember, my cousin has wanted to serve with the few and the proud.

From childhood games of hide and seek that proved much harder when everyone was wearing camouflage, to tactical shooting stance demonstrations after Christmas dinner at our grandparents’ house, it has always been evident that he would be an impressive Marine.

He didn’t disappoint.

What impresses me more than his service are his ideas about those who don’t serve in any official capacity.

“Our generation has this desire and inkling to do one of two things: change the world or be an addict,” Garner said.

He said that people are either selfishly addicted to a culture of constant connectivity and instant gratification, or they are actively sacrificing to make the world a better place.

“Those who wish to change the world either out-think it or fight the evil that lives within it,” Garner said.

He said that those who out-think the world and its problems are those who live civilian lives. They are the teachers, the nurses, the pastors or any of the people who do what they do in order to make the world a better place.

This resonated with me, a passionate patriot who lives in the civilian realm.

Garner said he falls on the other side of the spectrum. He explained that his method of changing the world is extinguishing the evil within it.

“I sacrifice as a Marine so that you can sacrifice as a civilian,” Garner said.

In a culture where it is much easier to live selfishly than sacrificially, that statement resonated with me.

Our heroes don’t wear capes — they wear doctor’s scrubs, police uniforms, coveralls or any other number of things.

In order for those heroes to have the freedom they need to change the world, we need one more set of heroes: Ones that wear fatigues. They are the soldiers, airmen, seamen and Marines.

To each hero who serves this country, civilian or military, thank you from the bottom of my heart. To the man whom I am proud to call my cousin, Cpl. Brandon Garner, United States Marine Corps, thank you — you are my hero.

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