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Rep. Dan Crenshaw: Coronavirus – We can only fight this enemy together. That's why duty is crucial

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Navy SEALs live by a series of mantras. “The only easy day was yesterday,” “Attention to detail,” and “Duty,” being among them.

We know that every mission matters, even the small ones. Every big mission we did was a result of a multitude of smaller missions, accomplished by individuals who did their duty.

In every smaller cog in the machine, it would have been easy to dismiss the small mission as unimportant to the larger cause. But no one did, because a sense of duty was so deeply imbued into every man in the platoon.

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On one of our more complex missions in Iraq in 2010, we had intelligence from our Iraqi partners that insurgents were using the rural region in central Iraq to plan attacks in the city centers.

We wanted to investigate these remote locations along with Iraqi police. Our plan was to drive our LTATVs (light tactical all-terrain vehicles—not much different from your commercial side-by-side ATV) throughout the rugged terrain, talk to the locals, and cautiously check out some of the locations of interest.

Not two hours into that particular mission, around 0300 hours, we ran into trouble. While moving forward in our unarmored LTATVs, we started taking machine-gun fire. The only option was to return fire and maneuver.

We hit back with more firepower than they were probably expecting, including forty-millimeter grenade rounds. They were outgunned and quite surprised to see us on their home turf, so they split.

A sense of duty must be fundamental to our daily lives. It is a sense that there are virtues and values in this life that should be pursued for the sake of virtue itself.

As this chaotic situation unfolded, one thing stuck out to me. We were prepared for it. Why? Because everyone did their job. They did their duty.

The communications lead was ready to immediately communicate with air support. My squad leaders were ready to make the right calls. No one’s guns jammed from lack of maintenance.

A thousand things could have gone wrong, but none did.

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A sense of duty must be fundamental to our daily lives. It is a sense that there are virtues and values in this life that should be pursued for the sake of virtue itself.

We know deep down what those virtues are.

We know we have a duty to clean our room, be patient, be polite, follow the law, get good grades, respect our parents, and so on. We know that.

We don’t always adhere to them, but we know them. And hopefully, we feel a degree of shame when we don’t adhere to them.

Shame and duty are closely linked. You must feel shame so that you act on your sense of duty. Duty is a positive result from the negative emotion of shame.

As our nation’s leaders have stated on many occasions, we will fight this pandemic through a combination of healthcare innovation, American resourcefulness, and sacrifice.

Our social lives and our economy are suffering as we persevere.

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In order to prevent a worst-case scenario, we must recall a sense of duty and unity that we have not experienced since the attacks of September 11th.

We must get the small things right, like washing our hands. And not in a careless way but in a thoughtful and thorough way, like a SEAL prepping for battle, knowing that each small act can save a life.

We must socially distance even when it comes at a personal cost.

We must tighten our belts, share with our neighbors and rediscover community—even if it means doing so in new ways.

If we are able, we must support our small businesses and our neighbors.

A healthy sense of duty toward self-improvement, virtue, and responsibility for your loved ones must be pursued consciously.

We have to remind ourselves of it constantly. If we don’t, it is far too easy to rationalize selfish and irresponsible behavior, eventually shutting down any feelings of shame whatsoever for that bad behavior.

We may recall the now infamous Miami Spring breaker who said “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.”

When the shame is gone, it is pretty unlikely that a sense of duty toward higher and nobler purposes will ever materialize.

If you don’t feel bad about potentially spreading a virus during spring break, then you certainly won’t feel a sense of duty to wash your hands before personal interactions.

The small things matter now. Duty matters.

As a nation, we are currently locked in battle against an enemy that we can only fight together, living by the mantras of combat.

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These lessons from the field now carry over to everyone’s daily life and have real life-or-death consequences.

The sooner we recall the importance of duty, in both small missions and large, the sooner we can return to normalcy.

Portions of this op-ed have been adapted from the author’s new book “Fortitude.”