A Union College alum and veteran challenged his audience Monday to walk out of his speech.
He told them to live their life so that they would have no regrets — starting right now.
“If you’re not doing something you want to do … you’re going to leave this auditorium immediately and do it,” Kevin Flike said.
Flike, who graduated from Union in 2006, came to speak at Union for Veterans Day, focusing on his experiences fighting in the war in Afghanistan.
As a Green Beret, he twice came close to death. The first time, he said, he was filled with regret.
He was pinned down under fire on a mountain and he began to fear that he would be killed before help could arrive. He had plenty of time to think about his life.
“What was really important to me was my friends, my family, my faith,” he said. “I started to really realize, I wasn’t living my life in that manner.”
He put off conversations with friends, didn’t prioritize his family and didn’t spend much time thinking about his faith. He had always assumed he would have time for that later, he said.
Just as he was beginning to question whether he was a “good man,” others arrived in a helicopter and he was able to shoot covering fire that allowed them all to get away.
Two weeks later, he and the rest of the team were sent home, but they were told they would redeploy almost immediately. Still, he had enough time to reorganize his life.
“I tried to make every conversation, every email, every Facebook message count,” he said. “I started going to Bible study on base.”
When he went back to Afghanistan, he and other Green Berets led a group of Afghan soldiers that they had trained. They fought together in a 10-hour battle against the Taliban in a rural village.
In the 10th hour, as he surveyed a riverbed from the side of a building, he was shot in the stomach by a sniper. For the next 55 minutes, he thought again that he would die.
But this time it was different.
“I wasn’t wrecked with that terror and regret,” he said.
Four days later, he woke up in Germany.
He was in the worst pain of his life, he said, but at the same time he was deliriously happy to find that he was still alive.
And he was relatively whole. Unlike others in hospitals with him, he did not have any limbs amputated. But a nerve was shredded, so he could not fully move his left leg.
He told the audience of his long fight to recovery, through mental anguish from his disability, painful physical therapy, breaking an addiction to pain medicine, and eventually the experimental nerve graft surgery at the Mayo Clinic that allowed him to use his leg again.
The things he had prioritized after his first brush with death were what gave him the strength to recover, he said.
“Luckily, my friends, my family and my faith came in for me. Everybody just gave me the energy to get better,” he said.
Even his younger brother played a role. When Flike despaired, he called his brother Nolan, who is seven years younger.
“Here I am saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.’ And he’s a junior at Union and he’s giving me direction,” Flike said.
He also credited the Army with teaching him not to give up.
“When times are tough, you have to keep going,” he said. “It took over two years for things for me to get better.”
Then he looked out at the crowd, where many college students were watching him.
Call someone and tell them you love them, he ordered them.
He gave the adults in the audience an order too: go out without any regrets.
Everyone gave him a standing ovation.
Afterward, students ducked out of the Nott Memorial to call loved ones back home.
Freshman Henry Kennedy said he would “cherish” his friendships and family relationships more.
“It’s even empowering me now. I’ll call my dad tonight,” he said.
Patrick DeBenedetto, a senior, called his brother and sister.
As he later stood in line waiting to talk to Flike, he said Flike’s war experiences touched him deeply because Flike went to Union.
“Not just to hear anybody talk about it but someone who went to your school,” he said. “It definitely reaches a new level.”
Even adults were impressed.
“He made me think about a lot of things,” said Union head football coach John Audino. “I’m very busy, don’t always take the time out. He inspired me tremendously. I think everybody needs to hear the message Kevin had tonight.”