Generations ago, there was a dispute between a group of clans over a piece of land in Ireland. One of these clans happened to be the Rileys. The families made a pact that whoever won a boat race to the ocean shore of the territory would claim it for their own.

The race was a struggle from start to finish, and though it was close, it seemed more and more likely down the stretch that the Rileys would be the second boat to touch land.

However, the story goes that with only a few yards of ocean left, the Riley clan leader, my ancestor, cut off his own hand and, with the other, threw the severed appendage to the shore to beat the other boats and claim the territory.

That is why there is a bloody hand on the Riley family coat of arms.

I have been thinking about this story recently because this is a reflective time of year; Veteran’s Day is on Friday and Thanksgiving is coming up in two weeks. During these holidays we are asked to think about our national as well as our familial identity.

To me, the story is about desperation and sacrifice. The clan leader made a choice to give a part of himself so that his family had an opportunity to make a life in this new, green land.

Perhaps it was an easy choice to make: homelessness for you and the people who bear your name or one measly hand.

My life has not, and may never require that kind of sacrifice, but humans are wired to think in terms of the pack. Our instincts push us to protect, and sacrifice for, those with whom we share experiences and blood.

Enlisting in the United States Military implies that one is willing to make these kinds of physical sacrifices for the country. I am interested in this idea because there are differences between a clan and a nation.

In certain ways, a nation is a vague concept. Those in the military will never meet everyone who lives in the country for which they are willing to sacrifice everything. The pack-survival instinct is not triggered automatically when defending a nation as it is when defending the clan.

It is thus the military’s job to trigger that pack instinct and to build bonds between soldiers that become as strong as a family’s. To those whose job it is to make sure that the military is the most deadly and effective in the world, these psychological concepts are of paramount importance.

However, to those of us who are at home safe on the hill, all that matters is that those brave men and women are across the world serving us.

This week will be chaos, but think of them and think of the sacrifices from people you will never meet that were required for you to be here.