By Bryce McDonald
In the tapestry of life’s narratives, each of us weaves a unique story. Today, November 11, our nation pays homage to a select few who raised their right hand and embarked on the path of service in the name of freedom. They are among us, not only on the practice fields, in board rooms, manufacturing facilities, or the supermarket check-out lines, but also within the very essence of our society – selfless veterans who tread the less-taken path in service to a higher calling.
For me, the journey began within the military, a story etched in the very fiber of my existence. Born on January 21, 1980, in Portsmouth Naval Hospital, I was raised by a Navy Officer mother and a father who served as a Marine in Vietnam. Both were veterans of wars, with my mother having served during Desert Storm.
My own path led me to the hallowed grounds of the United States Naval Academy as a recruited fullback on the football team. I played in the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, adorned with the names of battles that resonated deep within my family history. From WWI to Operation Iraqi Freedom, those names pulsed in my heart, forming an indelible part of my DNA. Four years in Annapolis, Maryland flew by in a blur, but a single event during that time altered the course of this nation’s history – September 11.
Within the Navy football locker room, I discovered a unique family, a brotherhood. Tempered by the relentless crucible of academics, military discipline, and Division I athletics, we all sought to give our best at every moment. It was here that I found the essence of camaraderie. I would eventually be chosen to serve in the United States Marine Corps, another brotherhood, forged in unwavering commitment, mutual love, and united by a singular mission – to serve our country in a time of war.
My journey in the Marine Corps would eventually culminate a few hundred yards from the Euphrates River, in a small town adjacent to Haditha, Iraq. There, my path took a dramatic turn when the vehicle I was in was struck by an improvised explosive device. I was swiftly evacuated from the country to Germany waiting for a fate that hung in the balance. The uncertainty of those moments was palpable, and it left an indelible mark on my soul. I was no longer just a football player or a Marine; I was a survivor.
In the years that followed, I learned the true meaning of brotherhood. Former teammates and fellow Marines rallied around me, offering support, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging that extended beyond the gridiron and the battlefield. We discovered that our shared experiences, both in the sports arena and the military theater, had forged a bond that transcended time and distance. My old football coach, Ken Niumatalolo at the Naval Academy, played a pivotal role. He not only offered me a job but also provided unwavering support for my family and me. Through his actions, he gave me a new sense of purpose and introduced me to a new family, proving that the bonds formed in football and the military transcended the football and battlefields.
As we mark this Veterans Day, let us remember the enduring importance of community, brotherhood, and belonging. It is a call to action for veterans and communities alike. Veterans, reach out to your fellow servicemen and women, check on them periodically, and extend the hand of camaraderie. For the rest of us, it’s an invitation to be part of this larger family, to welcome veterans into our communities, and to make an effort to understand their unique journeys and challenges.
In a world often divided by differences, the stories of veterans exemplify the power of unity and shared experiences. It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the unyielding commitment to service. Together, as a society that values community, we can ensure that no one is left behind, and we can create a brighter future where the bonds of brotherhood, both on the gridiron and the battlefield, remain unbroken.
This Veterans Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to service, unity, and belonging. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as best he can, the same cause.”
Currently, I am the UCLA Football Chief of Staff. Chip Kelly took a Chance on a veteran and he currently has employed 6 transitioning vets during my time here. Ken Niumatalolo took a chance on a Broken Veteran without a direction. They have taken the chance of hiring Vets. Now it is your turn.
Bryce McDonald, a retired Marine Corps Combat Wounded Veteran and former three-year letterwinner at fullback for the Naval Academy Midshipmen, was commissioned as an Infantry Officer and served until 2012. In 2006, during his deployment in Iraq, he sustained injuries in combat and received a Purple Heart. Currently, he is the Chief of Staff for the UCLA football team.