In April 2007, my family received “The Knock At TheDoor” that would change our lives forever as I share in my recently released book co-authored with gold star wives Amy Looney Heffernan and Heather Kelly.My brother, 1stLt Travis Manion, had been killed in Iraq. Travis was not only my brother, he was my best friend. And in the 12 years since his death, he has been my daily inspiration to live with intention gratitude, and occasionally fearless ignorance.
Before Travis died, I was a new mother running a clothing store in Pennsylvania. I had a deep respect for Travis and all of our service members but didn’t share his sense of obligation to serve. My focus was taking care of my family and enjoying life. But after Travis’ death, I was forced to examine myself and think about what kind of impact I wanted to have. I decided that, like my brother, I would dedicate myself to serving others. I would live with intention ensuring that every day counted. In his honor, I began a character development program for high school students where I would share stories aboutTravis and others that demonstrated character strengths such as integrity, courage, leadership and service. I went to high schools all around Philadelphia delivering this character program to any school that would have me and at no cost. As a program under the Travis Manion Foundation which my mom had founded and was running, I felt like I was doing my part to serve others by inspiring the next generation. Then I received my next knock—my mother was diagnosed with advanced cancer. Almost five years to the day of Travis’ death, my mother joined him in heaven.
Before my mother passed, her final request for me was to continue the important mission she created at Travis Manion Foundation to support veterans and families of the fallen. As one of the largest national veteran serving organizations, I felt completely unprepared to fill her large shoes. Unlike my brother, I didn’t attend a service academy or receive Marine Corps leadership training. I was a mother, wife and dedicated daughter. I was a small business owner. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, I had been thrust into a position to lead a staff of 50 and support over 120,000 members while managing a multi-million dollar budget. And with fearless ignorance, I accepted the challenge.
Despite losing Travis to an enemy sniper bullet and my mom too early to cancer, I am eternally grateful for the life I am privileged to lead and for all of the opportunities I’ve been given. Through tragedy, I’ve grown and become a better person.The character development program that I started before my mom’s death has grown into a premier way for veterans to continue to serve post-military. We’ve trained thousands of veterans to deliver our curriculum to over 300,000 young adults. I am filled with immense gratitude each time I watch a Veteran Mentor leverage his/her military experience and our curriculum to continue to serve, lead, and thrive in their post-military life. Through Travis Manion Foundation, I’ve gone on week-long, life-changing service trips with gold star family members as they learn how to grow from their loss while honoring their fallen hero. I am filled with gratitude when I watch them move forward on their journey and become mentors for other gold star family members. I am filled with gratitude every time a young adult that has gone through our character program tells me how much they learned from their Veteran Mentor and how they’ve used that knowledge to serve others. I am filled with gratitude knowing all of the great things these next generation leaders will do and that we played a role in their development.
Life isn’t fair. We all experience some version of a “knock at the door” at some point in our lives. Bad things happen and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But from loss and challenge comes growth. If I could trade all of the good that has come from my brother’s loss for more time with him, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t. So instead I honor him by moving forward, living with intention and making sureI make a positive impact in someone’s life every day. When I’m faced with a new challenge that I have no idea how to overcome or solve, I attack it with fearless ignorance. And above all, I count my blessings and I’m filled with gratitude for all of the amazing people doing amazing things in an organization named after my brother and hero