My Final Act of Service

Two years ago, I was built like a tank. I’ve been built like that my entire life, having grown up as a wrestler in high school and college. Once, way back then, someone looked at me and said, “What the hell are you?”
I look much different now. It’s hard for me to speak for long periods of time, and I’m about half the size I used to be. Now, I’m happy to just get up and walk, which is a mental challenge all by itself. The guy I used to be has been destroyed by chemotherapy.
In late 2015, I was diagnosed with stage-four cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that starts in the bile ducts. I don’t know how much time I have left; I may not even make it to my 55th birthday this December. But I’m happy that I can go knowing I’ve lived my life in complete service to others and to my family.
Except I have a teenage son, and there’s still so much to teach him.
I won’t be able to impart my wisdom to Mason as he grows up. That’s why I’m making sure he knows now the importance of living a life in service, like I have. The lessons are simple: Be humble, be open and be helpful.
Growing up, my father was constantly working, which meant he wasn’t around a ton. He did the best he could though, and I considered him my best friend. But I didn’t have someone who could mentally challenge me. I got into wrestling in the seventh grade, and my coach became that person for me instead. He ended up being a formidable figure in my life, and I’m still in touch with him today.
You could tell immediately that this man had served in the military — through his mannerisms, his attention to detail and his level of concentration. I thought, “This guy is incredible.” At an early age, my coach gave me advice that to this day I continue to take to heart:
“Don’t be a wise guy,” he would tell me. “Don’t be a showboat.”
Eventually, I joined the Marines, and that advice is what got me through basic training. Now, it’s something I teach Mason at every opportunity. We have a lot of big talks these days — especially now that I don’t know how long I have left to live — and I try to tell him who I was before the military.
I tell him not to be that guy.
When I enlisted in 1982, I was a very private person. In fact, you could say I was pretty closed off. But interaction with people is important, and you have to be open and outgoing. There is just something about being open to new experiences that makes life more meaningful. It also makes you not afraid to help people.

Time in the Marines inspired Anthony Egan to pursue a life of service.

There is nothing more gratifying than helping others, and there are many avenues for doing that — not just through the military.
I joined the Marines after one year of college because I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman,” about a guy who joins the Navy, came out right before I signed up, and that shaped what I thought the military was going to be like.
I was wrong.
My time in the military wasn’t like a Richard Gere action-romance film. It was tough, and it was terrifying. But it also made me grow into a man that started to think to myself, “What can I do to give back?” What the Marines did was laser-focus my attention and instilled in me the idea that, “Hey, you’re capable of a hell of a lot more than what you’re doing now.”
I left the service in 1988, and it haunted me for a long time. I just missed it so badly. I still say that the Marine Corps was the best job I ever had. But I can no longer regret leaving, because I have the best family God could give me, and I would never have met my wife and had Mason if I had stayed.
“What the Marines did was laser-focus my attention,” Egan says. “It instilled in me the idea that, ‘Hey, you’re capable of a hell of a lot more than what you’re doing now.'”

But here’s the thing: When you serve, the experience never truly leaves you; it always stays with you. Every time something tragic occurred, I would quietly shed a tear. When 9/11 happened, I was choked up watching the coverage on TV. I felt like I should be there — I needed to help.
So off I went to Ground Zero, wearing my old and dated fatigues from the ’80s, and was able to get my way onto the search and rescue team that pulled out the first five people. It was surreal; everyone had the same look on their face, much like how they talk about the empty thousand-yard stare of soldiers who served in Vietnam. There was a gray, pinkish powder in the air, like debris mixed with blood. And it covered everything.
My cancer, my family and I believe, has a direct correlation to my time helping on the pile. But I wouldn’t take any of it back, and Mason knows that.  
And that’s because service is part of me, now. I tell Mason constantly that being in service is such a selfless act. It’s contributing to something bigger than yourself. It just requires humility and the willingness to be open to help others.
Luckily for me, Mason already has most of these traits. But he’s only 14 and has a lot of growing up ahead of him and will face situations where I won’t be there to talk to him.
And that is the one thing that kills me — figuratively, of course — feeling like I’ve let down my son by dying too soon.
He’s talking right now of going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. I hope he does. He’s smart and creative, and good in science and math. I can see him being a biomechanical engineer or something similar.
But even if he doesn’t go into military, I just want him to be happy helping people. I tell him that if he sees someone who needs help, help them. It’s a really good feeling. I promise.
As told to NationSwell staff writer Joseph Darius Jaafari. This essay has been edited for clarity an style. Read more stories of service here.

Update: Anthony Egan passed away on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, with his family by his side. He served as a corporal in the intelligence unit of the U.S. Marines from 1982 until 1988. He then spent more than 20 years working in the pharmaceutical industry. He is survived by his wife and son in New Jersey.

Meet the Privacy Expert on a Mission to Protect Your Digital Footprint

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a new breed of nationalism took root that trained its attention on the foreigners among us. In response, the federal government adopted a set of strict policies and legislation that tracked immigrants in general and Muslim communities in particular.
“I felt like the whole country was in turmoil and at risk of abandoning its values for a false sense of security,” says Tim Sparapani, an expert in digital privacy and a NationSwell Council member. “I was always taught at moments like that you don’t look away; you get involved.”
So Sparapani did, finding his passion for social impact and public service within those tumultuous days. He joined the American Civil Liberties Union as senior legislative counsel and later helped establish Facebook’s presence in Washington as its first director of public policy. These days, the D.C.-based Sparapani leads SPQR Strategies, which he founded in 2011 as a consulting firm focused on online and digital data privacy.
It was at the ACLU that Sparapani gained his reputation as a fierce advocate for individual privacy, becoming a protector against what he says was unconstitutional policies. That included the Real ID Act of 2005, a significant piece of 9/11 legislation introduced and championed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), which required people who applied for a driver’s license or a government ID to produce five types of identification to prove their identity, such as a social security number, birth certificate, proof of citizenship and home address, and a mortgage statement or utility bill.
Democrats and the ACLU, along with moderate Republicans and a handful of libertarian organizations like the CATO Institute, thought the statute was “deeply unconstitutional,” says Sparapani. “Once you pulled back the layers, you saw it was based on nativism and ugly xenophobia.”
After the bill passed, Sparapani and his team at the ACLU spearheaded a campaign that urged states to resist the federal regulations. They made their push to the public by highlighting how the new driver’s licenses mandated under the bill — which would have electronic chips that stored a person’s name, address, birth date and social security number — were prone to identity theft, could be used to track individuals’ travel, and would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
“We were able to get dozens of states to independently enact legislation resisting the federal statute. That hasn’t happened since the Civil War,” Sparapani says. “It was our strategy to have state-by-state resistance to something that was tremendous overreach.”
Though the Real ID Act is still enshrined in federal law and, starting next year, will bar certain state IDs from being used to fly or gain access to federal buildings, Sparapani credits the campaign as his “a-ha moment,” when he realized there was a need to protect all U.S. residents’ privacy, especially from a government that he saw as wielding too much power.
“There was this new opportunity in the computer-database era for the government to exercise control over people in all sorts of nefarious ways by using technology for ill,” Sparapani says, adding that he’d like to see more people take up the cause for privacy rights online. “It’s kind of up to all of us to decide the rules for how we use technology as a society and put limits on it that are aligned with our constitutional values.”


Tim Sparapani is a NationSwell Council member and the founder of SPQR Strategies, a consulting firm that works with startups, established companies, and consumer and privacy advocates on the policy challenges raised by emerging technologies.

How This Veteran Transitioned From Combat to Cocktails

Steve Schneider, a former United States Marine turned world champion bartender, holds a wooden mallet. It’s his signature tool, and he uses it not only to crush ice for cocktails, but also to serve as a symbol of strength.
“I wanted to help people, you know? I wanted to make a man of myself and make a difference,” he says, explaining how he volunteered for a deployment after Sept. 11, 2001.
“In the Marine Corps I excelled, physically, academically, mentally,” he continues, reflecting on his sense of invincibility after graduating top of his class in boot camp.
But Schneider, who later built his future at a bar, almost died after a night out on the town during training for this elite unit that was headed to Japan, then Afghanistan. “I got in an accident,” he says, as the picture behind him transitions from clean cut military man to a hospital patient in a coma with two purple eyes, three plates in his skull and 52 stitches that left a scar framing his face. “I got my ass kicked, to be honest.”
Feeling lost, and thinking about his friends who he was supposed to be leading overseas, he stumbled upon a Washington, D.C. bar with a “Help Wanted” sign posted. What started out as a way to make a few extra bucks evolved into so much more — leading him to enter — and win — several speed bartending competitions and develop confidence in his craft.
Now, Schneider is one of the principal bartenders at “Employee’s Only” in New York City. “And that’s when everything started to take off for me,” says Schneider, the central character of the 2013 film Hey Bartender. “It gave me a platform to be the best at what I do.”
Watch his talk and prepare to be inspired by a veteran who is a walking, talking, mallet-bearing example of turning adversity into opportunity.

After America Was Attacked, These Veterans Were Inspired to Protect and Serve

At a Google Tech Talk yesterday, held at the company’s New York City offices, a panel of veterans recalled where they were on Sept. 11, 2001 — a date that motivated so many service members to join the Armed Forces.
In attendance was Joe Quinn, now the Northeast Director for Team Red, White & Blue, whose brother was one of the 658 employees at Cantor Fitzgerald who died when Flight 11 hit One World Trade Center. Former Green Beret Mark Nutsch told the story how he had to explain to his boys and his wife (seven months into her pregnancy) that he would soon have to deploy to get the bad guys. And Master Sergeant Eric Stebner spoke about earning the Silver Star for braving enemy fire to carry the bodies of fellow U.S. Army Rangers — including that of his best friend — in the battle of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan.
Carrie Laureno, founder of the Google Veterans Network, moderated the panel and emphasized the need to acknowledge these “achievements and contributions on behalf of all of us who have not served.”
Laureno led her team at Google Creative Lab to produce “The Call to Serve,” a temporary installation at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City to recognize the stories of Quinn, Nutsch and Stebner, among others. Reacting to the museum lacking any recognition of military accomplishments in the permanent exhibit, Laureno developed this tribute to the untold stories of military members who have served since 9/11.
Touch screens in the exhibit draw you into these stories using Google Tour Builder technology that integrates Google Earth imagery with personal photos and anecdotes provided by nine veterans.
While the exhibit will only be on view this week, as part of the 9/11 Museum’s “Salute to Service,” the tribute will remain online indefinitely.
Browse through the stories of the responders whose stories and service deserve recognition and thanks, then spread the word with the #ThankAVet hashtag.