closeup of a rusty dog tag with the text thank you veterans engraved in it, next to a flag of the United States, on a rustic wooden surface

First Friday Message

BIG Little Brother

I mentioned a few months ago that I recently visited with my brother, Aaron, in Louisiana. There are almost 11 years between us and, as you might imagine, that difference in age created different experiences in our lives. That said, we’re both pretty grounded, and family-focused, and we believe in working hard for what we want in life.

It wasn’t until sometime after college, when we both became “of age”, that our relationship matured from big bro and little bro to friends. After high school, my brother decided that a path to the Army might be better suited to him than college. Ever the protective big brother, I was proud of him but worried nonetheless. I was there as he headed off to basic training at Fort Knox and I was there to see him graduate and head off to Fort Polk. That time in Basic changed him – for the better – and gave me a small glimpse of the man hiding inside my little brother.

Like many others, my brother was called to active duty in Iraq. I remember thinking that he was still a kid, barely old enough to buy a drink, and now on his way halfway around the world for war. He would ultimately do three tours of active wartime duty while also becoming a father and sacrificing many formative years with my niece while protecting our freedoms.

Aaron has been out of the army for some time now, but he still works on base. We enjoyed a round of golf there on my last visit. And if you’ve ever spent any time on a large armed services base like that, you know it can be a humbling experience. The power, pride, majesty, and history of our country are on full display. I crushed my brother in golf that day (we’re competitive…I couldn’t help myself!), but I did find myself proudly looking up to him while we were on HIS turf. He’s never shared any great detail about his time in Iraq, but I know that what he experienced there has never left him…and nor should it, I guess.

On this Veterans’ Day, I’m thankful for my brother Aaron and my uncles who also served. I’m thankful for the many YMCA member vets who proudly come in on this day donning their vet hats and shirts. I love to see the young kiddos look up to them in amazement while they ask to wear “the pointy hat”. I’m thankful that they, and countless others before them, put Country first to allow us all the freedoms we enjoy.

I hope you all will join me in reaching out to the veterans in your lives today. The men and women who put service above self so we can live and thrive. And for those who have long since left us, I pray eternal rest for their souls.

Until next time… 

Kevin Bolding, President & CEO
YMCA of Central Florida

The Y. For a better us.®