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I just could not accept it. But they said, “It is a symbol.”  

I did not know that it would ignite renewed strength for me.

Some  of  you  will  know  what  this  is.

I was presented with this Marine Recon paddle.

This is an incredibly special honor and tradition reserved for operators KIA, or as an honor for distinguished service as a Raider or Force Recon Marine at MARSOC or a Navy SEAL. It's given to you from your team; the ones who see what you do when you think no one is watching. 

This paddle is stunningly gorgeous. It was made by a legend who was an SOTG trainer and now puts the MARSOC guys through the shooting package at Range 130 at Pendleton. I feel starstruck that he even knows my name. 

The biggest honor though, and frankly the responsibility to continue forward, comes from the battle tested operator and visionary leader that presented this to me. Without being able to name this person, I can say that he has changed the trajectory of my life. He and his team make the kind of sacrifices and live in service exemplifying all that is good in the world. I've learned so much from this leader, and the defense community writ large, and the lessons and experiences have pushed me to be better, work harder, and to persevere. 

I do not deserve this and am verecund to be given something reserved only for the heroes I look up to. Though we have the privilege of working alongside our military partners in conflict zones, we as a development community have a big needle to move before we can feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in contributing to our national security efforts. 


Veterans, active military and members of the SOF community know firsthand the painful cost of war and they are the first to acknowledge that kinetic action alone is not enough; and the unintended consequences can have devastating repercussions for our next generation. Yes, we must continue to have the strongest military in the world, but we must also facilitate cross-discipline, cross-sector collaboration in order to have a more successful and comprehensive national security strategy. It takes coordinated defense, diplomacy, and development to further stability, alleviate suffering, combat corruption, the spread of violent extremism and further peace-building efforts. As the threat landscape evolves, we must adapt as well and use resources to be proactive. Because "countering" is too late. 

I'm proud to come from a Marine family, so the significance of this is not lost on me. This unbelievable honor has made me realize now why symbols are so important. It's a message that "we know we are in this together." We certainly share common sentiments at times. The emotional, mental, and physical scars from what we witness can become overwhelming and make us second-guess if we can truly make a difference. 

I accepted this with hope, as the exchange represents solidarity in our combined efforts to strengthen our national security efforts. This recognition has recharged my resolve and is encouraging me to stay fiercely committed on this path. 

I will work to truly deserve this one day. 

I can promise you that when I see this, I will be reminded of what we are all fighting for and protecting. It's not just the man to my left and my right. It's our neighbors to our left and our right. It's for strangers, as well as our families, that make up our communities. For our allies and neighbors that make up our global community. It's for the freedom to uphold the values and principals that our country was founded upon. 

And that is ...that we are in this together. And in our increasingly interconnected world, we must recognize that we truly are this together.  

I love our country deeply. It stems from the gratitude for all the opportunities our country has given to me and my family, and to so many all over the world. I'm humbled as I watch people and especially the quiet professionals who have been extremely divided on issues begin to come together, willing to negotiate through differences because their love for this nation is so powerful and more important than winning an argument. 

I'm grateful... just grateful for the opportunities. I won't waste it.

We are in this together; in service and with honor.

- Mina




Mina Chang is Chief Executive Officer of Linking the World, an NGO that utilizes research tools to bridge the gap between practitioners and policy-makers, and curate broad public conversation about national security. Mina is an International Security Fellow for New America. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. For more information visit this page.

Mina Chang