We Stand for Freedom Together

Yesterday, all Pittsburgh Steelers’ team members stayed out of sight during the National Anthem — all but one, that is.

Alejandro Villanueva is a decorated Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan and earned the Bronze Star for Valor before becoming an NFL player. Despite that the team elected to remain off the field, Villanueva made his way to the field and honored the flag — a decision which reportedly didn’t sit well with his coach.

It can only be out of tragic misconception about what the flag and the National Anthem symbolize that one could fathom the idea of rejecting them.

To those who may be under the influence of that confusion, I’d like to introduce Army 82nd Airborne Staff Sergeant Travis Mills.

In 2016, I had the honor of meeting Sergeant Mills, who is a wounded veteran from Maine. In 2012, during his third tour in Afghanistan, Travis lost both arms and both legs when an IED exploded.

In 2013, Sergeant Mills founded the Travis Mills Foundation to benefit and assist combat-injured veterans and their families. I’ve included a picture of Travis with some of those colleagues at his wounded veteran retreat in Maine. The picture displays what words cannot about what the American flag and our National Anthem symbolize.

The flag is not a symbol of American policy or culture, but of the  massive cost and sacrifice that gives us the freedom to change those things.

When we sing the National Anthem, we honor those sacrifices, and we acknowledge the power they invest in us. When we stand and sing the National Anthem, we recommit to freedom — in honor of those who secure it for us.

There is no debate that America has equality issues, and that we have much work to do. But we are an exceptional nation because we self-correct. We are not where we need to be, but we are on the way — only because we have the freedom to make it happen.

Here is my plea to every single American:

Please stand up for veterans like Travis Mills, for the hundreds of thousands of brave military members who are buried in cemeteries around the world, and for all veterans. Please honor them during the National Anthem the way they honor us on the battlefield — by standing up.

I ask every American to take one more good look at the picture I’ve shared, and understand that while free nations do change, they don’t change on a dime, and they don’t change without sacrifice. That’s the trade off.

We aren’t a nation that kneels for freedom. We stand for it. Together.

Thank you,
Scott Wagner