Brent Taylor via Facebook
Brent Taylor standing atop the Gharib Ghar peak in Afghanistan while holding an American flag and a photo of John Scharf.

"Country first" and "America first" sound similar, but they are actually light years apart. Country first connotes duty, honor, sacrifice and service. America first is founded upon a more narcissistic nationalism that focuses on winning over others rather than winning with others. America first may provide power to some for a season, but country first creates a legacy that will last beyond this lifetime.

“Oh beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than selves their country loved and mercy more than life.” These lines from "America the Beautiful" epitomize the right kind of country first attitude in the nation.

North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor, tragically killed in Afghanistan last week, will rightly be remembered as a man who lived a country-first life. Duty, honor, sacrifice and service oozed from every fiber of his being and were manifest by his daily actions.

Mayor Taylor understood and fully embraced President John F. Kennedy’s instruction to the nation, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Putting country first is not limited to military service, first responders, law enforcement or other public service. Country first is about living up to the better angels of our nature and making a difference in our sphere of influence. Every. Single. Day. Every act of kindness, every gesture of goodwill, every time we think of service before self, we are living country first. In so doing we fulfill the promise of America that Alexis de Tocqueville saw in the early days of the republic — lifting others, not by force or government mandate, but by freely associating and coming together for the common good and the betterment of all.

Mayor Taylor is the epitome of country first, not because of the way he died, but because of the way he lived. He perpetually demonstrated that opportunities to serve are part of the abundance and freedom found in America. Taking advantage of such opportunities to serve, lift, inspire and help is central to actually living the American dream.

Michelle Scharf, a longtime political strategist and concerned citizen, along with her husband John, didn’t know Mayor Taylor well. The three were all part of a social media group that tends to talk politics, the goodness of America and the blessings that bacon and Diet Coke are to the country.

John also understood the power of sacrifice and service. He fought cancer in a most heroic way. In the midst of their life-and-death battle, John and Michelle lifted so many of us to higher and holier ground. Rather than being carried in their time of trial, John and Michelle exhibited an authenticity and courage that inspired and carried countless others. It was exactly the kind of country-first living that has made and preserved us a nation.

When John’s fight with cancer was finished, Mayor Taylor was in Afghanistan. He could have noted John’s passing and continued to focus on his own battles, far from home and family. Country first drove him to do something different.

Taylor wrote, “Hi Michelle, although we don’t know each other well, we are friends. I have been watching all your beautiful and heart-breaking posts about John's passing, and wishing there was something I could do to show my support for you and your family. I did not know John, but can tell from what everyone has posted that he was a great man and a friend to all.

“As I am in Afghanistan, I won’t be able to attend the Celebration of Life tomorrow, but wanted to do something from the other side of the world to honor your family and his memory. This morning I climbed to the top of the Gharib Ghar mountain in Afghanistan and flew a US flag from the peak in John’s memory. Attached is a picture at the peak … I wish you and your family healing and love tomorrow at the Celebration of Life. God Bless, Major Brent Taylor.”

Included was a photo of him standing atop the peak with an American flag and a picture of John. Country first.

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Martin Luther King described America not as a place or simply a space rich in natural resources, but that America is essentially a dream, a mindset and a way of living. Upon the death of Taylor, Major Abdul Rahman Rahmani from Afghanistan wrote Brent’s wife, Jennie Taylor, “Your husband taught me to love my wife Hamida as an equal and treat my children as treasured gifts, to be a better father, to be a better Husband, and to be a better man." Jennie, like Michelle, has been blessed by, and is showing each of us why, a country-first approach to living is indeed the way toward a better tomorrow, even in the midst of very difficult todays.

It is true that opportunistic politicians may have channeled an internally focused America first mantra to parlay the angst, fear and frustration facing the nation and secure power for a season. But the duty, honor, sacrifice and service of country first will stand as an eternal monument to those heroes who lived their lives and gave their all to make a difference for others and ensure the real dream of America continues as the last, best hope on earth.