Have you ever had a moment in life that you will cherish forever? Something someone said or did that will live in your heart forever? We all have those moments; when we get married, the moment our children are born, or even just a special gesture from a friend – or even from a stranger.
I’ve been gifted with many of these moments in my life; but there is one that relates to a special teenager and a very brave veteran that I’d like to tell you about.
I had gotten to know a wonderful and kind young man named Austin Stewart, through my work with the Chaparral High School Track team. Austin was on the team and participated at the 2013 State 5A meet. I brought my book, The Imagine Project: Stories of Courage, Hope and Love, with me to the state meet, wanting to show all the kids what had been taking up so much of my time for the last year. Austin loved the book, so I gave him the copy I brought.
Austin graduated high school the following week and began diesel mechanic school that summer. In the fall, Austin heard that a fellow classmate, Sgt. Elkin Echeverri, was being deployed to Afghanistan for a 9-month tour. Elkin’s job was an exceptionally dangerous one. He was in the lead vehicle searching for “boxes” (Army jargon for bombs), keeping the rest of his military company safe. This particular mission was in one of the most dangerous parts of the Afghan theatre of operations.
When Austin heard of Elkin’s mission, he decided to give him his copy of The Imagine Project. Austin hoped that Elkin would be inspired and given strength to stay safe and hopeful throughout his tour in Afghanistan.
Elkin graciously accepted the book, and chose to place it on the dashboard of his military vehicle, a monstrous thing that is used to protect the 455th Engineer Company operations against mine-detonations and rifle fire. The book was in that very spot – on the vehicle’s dashboard – for the entire tour of the battlefields of Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar. It traveled through some of the most dangerous areas of the world. The book was an inspiration for Elkin and the rest of Elkin’s team and platoon. Thankfully, Elkin and all of his men made it back safely.