We Are Free: Speaker uses son’s story to bring students closer to those that serve and the freedoms we enjoy

Published 6:57 am Saturday, November 23, 2019

On the surface, Karen Vaughn’s story isn’t much different from families throughout our nation’s history who have lost loved ones in service to their country.

Vaughn’s son Aaron, a chief special operating officer for the Navy SEALs, lost his life in 2011 while serving in Afghanistan.

But it’s what Vaughn’s doing with her son’s own message, after his passing, that’s leaving a lasting impression on those groups she speaks to.

Email newsletter signup

Vaughn spoke to students at Pacelli Friday morning, imparting a message of freedom, something her son believed with his whole heart. The event was part of the Freedom Tour, which is itself part of the American Warrior Initiative. Austin’s event was sponsored by Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation.

“He knew he had a personal responsibility to protect what had been protected for him,” Vaughn told the students, urging them to not take their freedoms for granted. “If that boy could rise up from the dead and fight for the next 1,000 years, he would do it. Over and over again.”

“The sacrifice for your freedom has been so much more than you have thought about. You need to live lives that are worthy of that.”
– Karen Vaughn

Aaron died on Aug. 6, 2011, when the helicopter (call sign Extortion 17) he and others were on, was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade while rushing into battle. Thirty soldiers died in the crash, including 17 SEALS, most of whom were members of SEAL Team 6, including Aaron.

The loss of life amounted to the largest single loss of American lives in the history of the SEALs.

But Vaughn spent a majority of her time Friday telling the students about Aaron and those things he believed in, and that was the freedoms we value and that so many have laid down their lives for.

She related how she and Aaron would stay up late talking and how he always ended their conversations with, “Mom, I can’t believe God let me do this.”

Throughout her speech, Vaughn spoke genuinely and passionately about those things Aaron believed in the most, believing that those things that mar our nation today could be healed.

Karen Vaughn presents at Pacelli Schools.

“Never take freedom for granted,” she said. “There are dark days, but because of freedom there is the opportunity for good men to stand up and fix them.”

It’s because of these freedoms, Vaughn urged, that people have the opportunity to realize their dreams, and that this struck to the core of Aaron’s own beliefs.

“No matter how big your dream is don’t let anybody discount it,” she said. “Do not let obstacles stop you from becoming who you were created for. Don’t waste what you were given.”

Towards the end, Vaughn brought the students with her to the day her son was buried and of the tradition of SEALs leaving their tridents, given to a SEAL after two years of service, to the fallen in a show of brotherhood.

She related how Aaron’s best friend, Chief Special Operating Officer Brad Cavner, struggled to say goodbye to him and how later they were gathered again, this time for Cavner, who had lost his own life.

“Three years later we gathered to bury Brad,” she said. “The sacrifice for your freedom has been so much more than you have thought about. You need to live lives that are worthy of that.”

After the speech, Vaughn talked more of her son’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of countless others who gave their lives in service to their country.

Students listen to Karen Vaughn’s presentation at Pacelli Schools.

She wants those that she speaks to, to truly understand everything that goes into a single word.

“The broader pictures is I want these students to realize that freedom is profound,” Vaughn said. “We need to respect not just the word freedom, but our way of life in America.”

In today’s political climate, these types of views can be caught in the crossfire of agendas and political ideologies, but Vaughn is able to use Aaron’s story to cut through the white noise, to find resonance on all sides of the political landscape.

“I think that’s where his story resonates,” Vaughn said. “It doesn’t come from a political agenda. It’s a story of a nation and those behind it.”