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We don’t just meet the standard. We exceed it, we rewrite it, and then we start all over again.

For the past seven years, I have been running Lake Hollingsworth on early mornings here and there, in hopes to catch the sunrise mid-run. If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen Sean Sweat running the lake, a man in the physical training uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces, carrying an American flag. Sweat’s passion and perseverance is something to look up to. We listened to his inspiring story to share with you on this 4th of July as we celebrate the land of the free and home of the brave.

Sean Sweat was born in Fort Hood, Texas. Both of his parents were commissioned officers during the Vietnam War era. After graduating college with a degree in technical theater and a minor in theater history, Sweat joined the U.S. Armed Forces.

Sweat had just completed his Fire Standards for the state of New York and received his EMT license shortly after 9/11 to join the NYC Fire Department. At the time, Sweat had family in Florida. His dad, grandma, and godfather did not want him being a part of the NYC Fire Department, which then led Sean to choose sunny Florida over shoveling snow in NYC.

After working with the firefighter department in Polk County for two years, Sweat was up for a promotion. During that time, he also heard that his platoon leader, Joshua Byers, a West Point graduate lieutenant and longtime mentor, had been killed in action.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about Lieutenant Byers’ passing until a few years later,” says Sweat. “If that man said we were going to hell, the entire platoon would stand up and say, ‘What time are we leaving, sir?’ We would follow that man to hell and back if we had to. He was that much of a leader for us, and he had an attitude. His attitude was:

We don’t just meet the standard. We exceed it, we rewrite it, and then we start all over again.

“And there were several times we actually rewrote our own standard,” says Sweat. “When I found out Lieutenant Byers was killed in action, it hit home for me.”

Sweat was in the middle of taking his promotion exam a second time because he failed to pass it the first time. “Lieutenant Byers’ voice resonated and echoed within me, about being proficient and being good at what we do, and not just being good but doing it right. At that point I said to myself, ‘I am going to promote and pass the test no matter what happens.'”

Sweat blew the test out of the water. The score he attained was unheard of, and on the Polk County Fire Rescue team, there were only three team members who scored within that similar range.

“I did well and passed it. It was just like being back in service. I did not only meet the standard, I exceeded it and rewrote it. Running with the American flag around Lake Hollingsworth goes hand in hand with me finding out about Captain Byers.

“Veterans Day was coming up, and I was already running the lake for a workout and as a way of staying fit. I said to myself, ‘I am taking the American flag and running with it out of respect for Captain Byers and my family.’ Not only did my mom and dad serve in Vietnam, but I served in Kuwait, my brother served for 20 years, and both of my grandfathers served in World War II. I decided that running with the flag wasn’t just to honor captain Byers, but also to honor my family and the guys I served with. I wanted to honor them, and I did not want people to forget them, especially those who served honorably like Captain Byers and some of my friends who were killed in 9/11. I was at Ground Zero in New York to help with recovery efforts and lost quite a few friends that day who were service members. I want to honor them as well.”

If you’ve ever heard Sweat run, you will often hear him chant like most servicemen during training. He also yells “Good morning” to everyone he sees.

“Not too long ago, I was running with the flag and I saw a man with a little girl. I could kind of tell from a distance he had been a marine and yelled towards him to say, ‘Good Morning, Trooper,’ and I kept on rolling. When he finished his visit, he went past me and met me over by the country club parking lot. He got out of his cruiser and put his hat on, stood in attention to salute me, and yelled, ‘Semper fi.’ At that point, nothing was going to stop me. It’s the little things like that, that make my day. I was so motivated that I improved my running time that day as well.

Never quit. Never forget.
“That is my motto when I run with the American flag.

“Another of my favorite stories is a gentleman who is a full Navy commander. He lives on the lake and is one of very few surviving Navy aviators who can stand up and say he has over 500 launches and captures with two types of aircraft. If he is in the right location of his house, when he sees me coming he will get up out of his chair wherever he is, and will stand at the end of his carport or at the end of his driveway, depending on how much time he has when he sees me coming, and he will stand in attention as soon as I get close enough with the flag. He will snap to and yell, ‘Good morning, corporal,’ and I will yell, ‘Good morning, commander.’ I also yell, ‘Never quit. Never forget.’ He will give me a snap salute, and I keep on running. This gentleman has been doing that for the past three to four years when he sees me coming as I run the lake.

“The ultimate question is, why? The answer is, so nobody forgets. This is not a non-profit organization. I do not receive money, and it is not done to make a political statement of any kind.

“I’ve had an opportunity to meet so many veterans, and I get to know their stories. When I run with the flag, I am running so that no one forgets. I don’t want people to forget the price that is paid and has been paid for our freedom and this beautiful country. My father died from service-related cancer. My father-in-law died from service-related cancer as well. My grandfather sustained an injury during World War II which hindered him further in life to make a living as time went on. There is a price that is paid for the freedom that we have; the general public sometimes doesn’t realize how extensive that can be. My son and his mom sat down and figured out that in the three years I was in service, I was home for a total of 10 months. Not consecutively, but that is how long I was home for. The strain on family life is very hard. It’s not only the soldiers that pay the price, but also their families.

“As time has gone by, I’ve had veterans share their stories with me, and when I run and carry the department flags (Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps), I carry their stories with me. I run the lake so that nobody forgets the price, so that nobody is forgotten. I don’t leave anyone behind.”