Veterans Day: What Makes a Hero?

PHOTO: Jamie Jarboe was shot by a sniper while serving on military duty in Afghanistan.
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What is a hero? Or, better, what makes a hero? We all know about the Hollywood heroes ... they rush into trouble to save those they love. They risk their lives for others and sometimes lose their own.

Is self-sacrifice in the face of mortal danger our guide? If so, there are hundreds of thousands of heroes in our military. In fact, just being a soldier, Marine, sailor or in the Air Force would make one a hero. I should add the Coast Guard as well. Maybe that's the way it should be.

Or, is a hero born out of a single act of bravery -- a sudden character-testing incident in the heat of battle? Those I know in the military would argue that that's what training is all about -- doing what you need to protect others and stay alive.

Perhaps there should be a moral test. I know some people who believe Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombers are heroes. What is our moral guide to heroism?

PHOTOS: A Hero's Tale: Jamie Jarboe's Remarkable Journey

In Iraq, during the height of the war, al Qaeda would pay $50 to anyone who would dig a hole in the road. The next taker would plant the explosives, another fill in the hole and others would continue until an "improvised explosive device" was created. Often those who helped were fathers desperate for money to feed and care for their families.

To find out more about how you can "stand up for heroes" please visit our special section.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, at the time in charge of the day-to-day battle in Iraq, saw this and believed these IED makers would "do the right thing," given the opportunity. His mission became to create jobs.

Eventually, many of those fathers did the right thing. They took jobs, often working for the military, and at a fraction of what they'd get for digging holes and planting explosives.

They knew they could be killed, or their families killed, for working on projects funded by the United States, but despite the mortal danger, one by one they pulled their country out of an orgy of violence.

Are these former bomb makers' heroes?

If a single act of bravery can make someone a hero how about doing nothing? I have seen remarkable restraint many, many times in Iraq and in Afghanistan. An unseen bullet or bomb would take a life of a young soldier. Their comrades knew the locals around them either took part in the attack or knew who did. They had the courage to do nothing.

"We're killing and capturing a lot of bad guys," a general once told me. "The real question is -- are we creating them faster than we can kill 'em"?

So, those soldiers who watched one of their friends die one minute had to control their fury the next as they watched those who, in some way, may have killed their friend. Retribution would only create "more bad guys." In that moment in time they did nothing. Is that an act of heroism?

However you define a hero they continue to frame how we think about ourselves. What would we do if we were them? This brings us to the provocative case of Sgt. Jamie Jarboe.

Siah Choy is at the center of the heart of the Taliban. This is where an awkward young check point commander, Omar, grew up to be the spiritual leader of one of the most violent Muslim fundamentalist movements in modern times.

Here, the high plains dirt and dust of Southern Afghanistan end abruptly at the Arghendhab River. It's an unlikely place for a jungle. The water gives life to the land and its lush, overgrown riverbanks provide cover for fighters and equipment making their way to the former Taliban capital of Kandahar. This is where Staff Sgt. Jamie Jarboe was shot.

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