Each year, on a warm summer night, an old renovated barn not far from Fort Bragg, N.C., is brightly lit and full of people who have come to honor some of this country’s greatest men. To many of the thousands of people in attendance, these men aren’t just heroes—they’re family or friends. And they come to celebrate Mike Duskin and Riley Stephens with a party because they still love, respect and admire these men, even though they’re no longer with us.
I’ve had the privilege of attending the Duskin & Stephens Foundation’s Beef & Beer Benefit for the past couple of years, and it broke my heart that I couldn’t be there this year. There is something special about the event that’s hard to describe. It’s an all-American kind of evening, with burgers on the grill, llama rides for the kids outside the barn, and inside an auction full of all kinds of cool items, including some amazing firearms (full disclosure: Nosler, which sponsors NRA News “Cam & Co.,” is also a sponsor of the Beef & Beer Benefit), outdoor gear and even signed helmets and baseballs from today’s hottest athletes. All that is still only a small part of what makes the night such an incredible evening. It really comes down to the community that comes out to honor these men.
Chief Warrant Officer Two Mike Duskin and Sergeant First Class Riley Stephens served in the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), and it was the Special Forces community that came together to start the Duskin & Stephens Foundation after their deaths in Afghanistan just weeks apart in the fall of 2012. Their mission: to support the United States Special Operations community through direct support to families of fallen operators; healing programs designed to combat the effects of PTS, TBI and loss of a loved one; and youth scholarships for children of active-duty members of the Special Operations community.
Big Mike was 42 when he was killed by a Taliban fighter in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on his second deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom as an assistant detachment commander. He was a warrior, no doubt. But he was also a husband and father, respected and admired by thousands. He was an avid competitive shooter (3-gun, in particular) and supporter of the Second Amendment, still memorialized on the home page of the North Carolina range Tarheel 3-Gun.
Riley Stephens was 39, and was on his fifth deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed by a soldier in the Afghan National Army at a traffic checkpoint, also in Wardak Province. He too was a husband, and a father of three. He was the salutatorian of his high school graduating class, and now his hometown of Tolar, Texas, holds a 5k run every year in his name to raise money for the Riley Stephens Memorial Scholarship, which provides $1,000 scholarships to deserving high school seniors.
Clearly these men made an impact on many people over the years, and when the Beef & Beer Benefit rolls around, the Fort Bragg community (military and civilian alike) comes together and turn out in ever-larger numbers to honor them. But I believe they’re also celebrating and honoring the entire Special Forces community—those warriors who fight in the shadows and aren’t supposed to make headlines. It is a heartfelt recognition of the battles they fight, the sacrifices they make, and their love for and sense of duty to the United States of America, and it is awesome to be a part of it.
To learn more about the Duskin & Stephens Foundation and how you can support the organization’s mission, or even attend next year’s Beef & Beer Benefit, click here.