As a community, we have become rather cavalier with the use of the word hero. Ballplayers, community leaders, congressmen making speeches, all called heroes within the last week by my nightly news. Maybe to some they are, maybe my definition is clouded by experience, or maybe I’m too hard on the lawmakers and ballplayers. It just seems to me that when one does come across a person who sacrifices selfishly for someone else, drives ever forward for a noble cause, and becomes a lasting memory that continues to encourage strength, the hero moniker should hold enough clout to make you stop in your tracks. Of course, to understand my definition of a hero, one must meet such a person.
Sergeant First Class Jared Monti embodied the wholly positive stereotypes of the Non-Commissioned Officer. His presence did not come from his size, but the gravity of his demeanor. Simply by watching his actions you could tell that he was a man of integrity and discipline. Movies have tried to recreate men like SFC Monti and have failed. Presence is not something you can instruct, it comes from years of hard work and hard education.
I was as green as any other Second Lieutenant when I met SFC Monti. He was a Field Artilleryman, a Forward Observer to be exact, and it was his duty to ensure that all the officers assigned to the FA knew how to call for fire in case they were in a position where a man like him became unavailable. I was a Medical Service officer assigned to the FA and had absolutely no knowledge, but was surrounded by Officers who had attended months of training on all things artillery. I was nervous and even more-so with SFC Monti as my instructor. No one wants to fail, me least of all, especially when surrounded by my peers. SFC Monti, who must have had a sense for these things, spent a little extra time with me to make sure I got it right. He loved training, loved his job and knew how important it was.
Each officer went alphabetically and, as I am a “Z,” I went last. Most took two or three shots at it, but all of them hit the target. He called me forward to the simulation center and put up a target on the digital screen. I looked through my pretend binoculars, tried to remember at least half of what he said, and called for fire. Hit. Smoke. Fire for affect. SFC Monti looked at me and said “LT, you can ride with me any day.”
Later that year in the mountains of Afghanistan, SFC Monti lost his life trying to save his Soldiers and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for it. Read his story here. The next year a country song called “I Drive Your Truck” by Lee Brice was sung about his family and their loss.
Every day I think about SFC Monti. I get nervous when I think about him saying that I could ride with him. If I feel anxious about a meeting, or speaking in front of a crowd, or my daughter’s future, I think of his sacrifice and find strength. I think that I care for people, but realize that there is caring for people and there is sacrificing for people I realize how hard each of them are and hope I can be just a little bit of what SFC Monti was.
Most of all, I am careful with how I use the word hero because if a hero is a ballplayer who makes a game winning shot, then what would I call SFC Monti?