There are few manlier virtues than sacrifice. The ability to unselfishly put aside one’s own needs and desires to fulfill and protect the needs and desires of others requires a level of maturity and self-control few men ever truly attain. Instead, many men today are children living in man-sized bodies. They view the world and others as tools to fulfill their appetites. Only after they themselves are satisfied, can they begin to think about others. “What’s in it for me?” has become the battle cry of a generation.
“Sacrifice” comes from a Middle English verb meaning “to make sacred.” Ancient religions and peoples offered sacrifices of human and animals in order to sanctify their life or their community. But such gestures were invariably empty; external gestures can never substitute for internal failings. Instead, a man who wishes to sanctify his life must become a living sacrifice.
Of course the problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar. When the flames threaten to consume you, will you be able to take the heat?
These two men came under fire, quite literally, and passed that test. While both soldiers, they have much to teach all men about sacrifice and selflessness.
Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis
“The lives of four men who were his Army brothers outweighed the value of his one life. It was just a matter of simple kindergarten arithmetic. Four means more than one. It didn’t matter to Ross that he could have escaped the situation without a scratch. . . The choice for Ross was simple, but simple does not mean easy. His straightforward answer to a simple but difficult choice should stand as a shining example for the rest of us. We all face simple choices, but how often do we choose to make a sacrifice to get the right answer? The right choice sometimes requires honor.”
-The parents of Private Ross A. McGinnis
On December 4, 2006, Private Ross A. McGinnis was manning the machine gun turret of a Humvee patrolling the streets of Adhamiyah, Iraq. From the rooftop of a nearby building, an insurgent hurled a grenade into the vehicle. The Army instructs soldiers in the situation McGinnis now faced to immediately seek escape. McGinnis ignored this training and instead thought of the lives of his four Army brothers stuck in the Humvee. He yelled “Grenade!” into his microphone to prepare them for the blow and then pinned the grenade between his body and the vehicle, entirely covering it with his back. In a matter of seconds, the grenade exploded; McGinnis’ body absorbed its full impact. Four men’s lives were spared because of this selfless and courageous act.
Interestingly, a similar situation had arisen a month earlier. A different convoy of men had faced the same scenario. A grenade was thrown into the Humvee, only this time the soldier manning the machine gun immediately leaped from the vehicle. The grenade turned out to be a dud. Upon hearing what happened, McGinnis admitted that he wasn’t sure what he would do if it happened to him. It was only in the moment when the grenade landed by his feet that the true substance of what Private McGinnis was made of would be revealed.
Master at Arms Second Class Michael Monsoor
“Mikey looked death in the face that day and said, “You cannot take my brothers. I will go in their stead.”
-One of the Navy Seals saved by Petty Officer Second Class Michael Monsoor
Even before that fateful in Iraq, Michael Monsoor had shown himself to be a true man. Monsoor was a sickly child whose serial bouts of asthma and fits of coughing often landed him in the hospital. But just as Theodore Roosevelt before him, Monsoor was determined not to let his weaknesses hold him back. He built up his lungs and body by frequently challenging his siblings to swimming races. Monsoor was more than successful in building up his physical prowess; as an adult he became part of the most elite fighting force on the planet: The Navy Seals
This kind of grit came in handy as Monsoor sought to fulfill his mission in Iraq as an automatic weapons gunner on a Seal sniper team. On September 29, 2006, Monsoor’s team was positioned on a residential rooftop in Ramadi, a hotbed for violence and a stronghold for the Iraqi insurgency. That morning, his Coalition battalion had fired upon and killed enemy fighters, revealing his unit’s position. Citizens blocked off the street and a mosque called upon the populace to besiege the Coalition force. Under attack, Monsoor and two fellow soldiers positioned themselves in a sniper hide-sight. As Monsoor diligently watched for enemy movement, an insurgent hurled a grenade onto the rooftop. The grenade bounced off Monsoor’s chest and fell to the floor. Positioned by the only exit, Monsoor alone could have attempted escape. Instead, he yelled, “Grenade!” and then seeing that his comrades would not have time to move away, dove unto the explosive, covering it with his body and absorbing its impact. His two Seal brothers were wounded but their lives spared.
Lessons for all men
Most men will never be faced with these kinds of life and death situations. But the selflessness and courage Private McGinnis and Petty Officer Monsoor displayed are values every man should seek to embody. Sacrifice is never easy whether on the battlefield or in our daily lives. When you are offered a promotion that will mean more money and prestige but zero time with your family, will you be able to turn it down? When your wife asks you to quit smoking because she wants to grow old with you, will you be able to quit? When a loved one needs a kidney transplant, will you be willing to give up yours? Will you be able to sacrifice your own desires to help someone else?
There will always be an escape, an avenue for retreat. What will you do when you are asked to step up? Will you cower in fear and flee? Or will you have the strength to do the right thing? A man can never know with absolute certainty how he will react in the moment of crisis, faced with such decisions. But you can decide each and every day, in your heart and your mind, what kind of man you want to be. You can decide that running away from challenges will never be an option. And you can strive each day to attain the values and training needed to become a selfless person. Then, when you are asked to sacrifice, you will not hesitate, making the honorable decision will be automatic.