Remember who you are – a Ranger

You will face many obstacles during your life. Some are easy to overcome, and others will vex you. You will probably need help dealing with the tough obstacles. Asking for help is not something that comes naturally for me. I am pretty stubborn, and am usually overconfident in my own abilities. Many times this trait worked well for me. I have learned a lot by solving my own problems. But, at other times – my stubbornness has been detrimental. It would have been better to get help from others rather than go it alone. Nowadays, I am getting better reaching out to others when times get tough. The last lesson from my father that I will share with you comes from one of those times when I reached out to him for help to deal with the hardest phase of my life.

When your mother decided that divorce was the best path forward for our relationship things got really bad quickly. I will not go into detail here about why. Needless to say – I was not sure what to do, and needed help. A lot of help. I reached out to a group of Godly men that I know for advice. Men like Bill Hauschild, Jim Neale, Gary West, Chuck Riddle, Dwayne Smith, Bob Mosier, Scott Leib, and my brother Perry. Each of them had great advice for me. What they taught me was useful for sorting through the situation. But, the man who helped me the most was your Opa.

Divorce is devastating. I have yet to talk with anyone who is divorced that describes it as a pleasant process, or the road to happiness. It can be soul crushing, especially for Christians since we believe that God creates one flesh out of two people when they are married. I was ill prepared for the dark days that followed when I moved out of the house on November 3rd, 2013. I still remember watching my parents cry when I told them a week later about the divorce. They were sad about the situation and worried about the impact it would have on both of you.

A few days later I met my dad for breakfast – one of our Veteran’s Day traditions. I was not in a good place. Tired from a lack of sleep, and emotionally drained – I did not look good. My father noticed and asked me what he could do to help. I said that I did not know what he could do to help, or how in the world the whole thing would turn out. My words were full of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I did not like the person that I had become, and did not have a clue about how I would crawl out of the pit that I was in. My father recognized my fear and reminded me of an important point that I had forgotten.

“I know you are sad and scared. You will overcome this obstacle. The reason you will prevail is because I know who you are. You are my son, you were a good husband, and you will continue to be a great father. Never forget that you are a ranger. You will be strong for your boys because that is what they need. It is going to be tough, but I am here to help, and will continue to support you until this is over.”

And that is what my dad did for the next several months. He would call me on a regular basis to see how I was doing, how the boys were doing, and how things were progressing. He still calls me on a regular basis. He sent me numerous emails with encouraging words full of unconditional love. My father even wrote me letters to make sure that I knew I was loved and supported by both he and my mother who was also great during this phase. Their faith, hope, and love worked. They helped me get out of the pit.

Boys – I want you to know that I am here to help you and offer my assistance when you need it, especially when you face life’s greatest challenges. You are not alone, and you are loved. I will help you to remember who you are, and that better days are ahead.

Psalm 40: 1-2

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand

Express love to your children

My father is a pretty quiet person. During my youth it was rare that he would raise his voice, and he did not yell much at all…even though your Uncle Perry and I probably deserved a few tongue lashings every now and then. We were not the best behaved children. Shocking – I know. It may be hard to believe, but we tested my parents patience on a regular basis with our shenanigans.

Opa is not really that emotional either. He is not a big hugger, and does not cry often. Many men don’t. Whether it is fair or not, tears are usually seen as a sign of weakness for men. American society’s attitude about men crying has changed the past few decades – which I think is a good thing. But, the fact remains, that the men of Opa’s generation were taught not to cry, but to “suck it up like a man”. Also, as a boy I equated my father’s lack of emotion to his military background. He is a West Point graduate and a career Infantry Officer. He completed Airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces training, and served three tours in Vietnam. The profession of arms requires calm, cool, and unemotional leadership.

Having said all that, my father is great at expressing his love for me, to me. I know that my father loves me because he consistently demonstrated his love to me over the years in multiple ways. First, he tells me “I love you” on a regular basis. He is not one of those men who is afraid to say “I love you” to his wife and children. I know people who have never heard their father tell them “I love you”. It makes them sad, and wonder how their father feels about them. My father’s feelings about me are not a mystery. I know that he loves me. He tells me. I cannot imagine walking through life with the question of whether or not my father loves in the back of my mind.

Second – my father demonstrates his love to me by offering encouragement when I need it. On numerous occasions my father offered me an encouraging word, especially when I am down. I remember one example from my youth in particular. I was probably eight years old. Uncle Perry and I were both swimmers growing up. We would attend swim meets on most weekends. One summer my dad drove me into Washington DC for a meet. It was a horrible meet. My performance was awful. I did poorly in all my events, especially the last one. It was a waste of time and money. I was embarrassed by my performance, and afraid to see my dad afterwards. I sat down next to him in the car for the long ride home, I apologized for my poor performance and started to cry. My dad gave me a hug and said one of his favorite sayings. It is a saying I know well, because I have heard it from him for many years.

“Some days you get the bear. Some days the bear gets you. Today was awful, and you stunk. But, you will get another chance. Next time will be better, and you will show everyone how good you are.”

The third way my father demonstrates his love for me is by showing interest in the things that I find interesting. Over the years, I have been interested in many things – some good, and some not so good. Opa has tolerated the not so good things, and been supportive of the good ones. I remember once mentioning to my father an interest in Christian apologetics. I was exploring my faith at a much deeper level, and wanted to learn more. The next time I saw my dad he surprised me with a gift of two books about the topic. I asked him how he chose the books. He confessed that he did not know anything about it, so he did some research on Amazon and bought two books that were highly rated. His simple investment inspired me to dig deep into my faith which has served me well over the years.

When it comes to you boys – I try to emulate my father and express my love to you in a similar manner. Even though it may embarrass you at times – I will tell you that I love you. I do my best to provide encouraging words when you need it, and I invest my time and resources in things that you find interesting. Gavin – I have grown to enjoy the Foo Fighters. Their concert last year was awesome. Riley – there is no better way to start a weekend than watching BPL soccer. I am still amazed that Leister City won the championship. The Jamie Vardy jersey you have was a pain to buy at the time, but well worth it.

‘I just said, “Dad, I want to finish, get me back in the semi-final.” He said, “OK. We started this thing together and now we’ll finish it together.” He managed to get me to stop trying to run and just walk and he kept repeating, “You’re a champion, you’ve got nothing to prove.”

– Derek Redmond

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Have a good time, don’t be miserable to be around

When you walk around these days – one thing you will notice is that a lot of people are not happy. In fact, they are miserable. Life is tough, and the world will cut you no slack, so it is easy to become miserable. My father taught me many years ago that it is important to have a good time on a regular basis. Not stupid fun, but do something that you enjoy and that relaxes you.

Several years ago I was pretty miserable to be around. I was working way too much, under a lot of pressure to succeed at work and and in life. I did not take care of myself, and did not stop to have a good time. Sure – we took vacations, but even those did not help much. I usually did not relax a majority of the time since I was worried about falling behind at work, and I would immediately jump back on the treadmill of life after getting back home.

My dad noticed and talked to me about it. He reminded me that it was important to stop and smell the roses every now and then.

“Enjoy life more. You do not have to practice being miserable. It comes naturally, and the world is already full of miserable people. Instead – have a good time, and spend time with the ones you love.”

As a result of that conversation – I made some changes to have more fun. One thing that I enjoy a lot is going to the ballpark, and watching my favorite baseball team, the Washington Nationals. I don’t know what it is about being at a ballpark, but I enjoy the experience. It is relaxing for me. I like the atmosphere during the game, and nothing tastes better than a hot dog at the ballpark.

I am glad that both of you have gone to the ballpark with me for many games. We have a good time, and some times, when no one is paying attention, we even get a little goofy. I hope that you remember those experiences, and do the same for you kids. It has been awhile since we visited Nats Park – so let’s plan on going again soon.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

– Ferris Bueller

Talk with your feet, not with your mouth

My father was my soccer coach for many years. Like many in his generation, he never played the game growing up. Football and baseball were the sports he knew best. But, when the local soccer league needed coaches, my dad answered the call and coached both my soccer team and Uncle Perry’s for many years. He was a great coach. We won a lot of games, and many trophies. His coaching approach was basic – focus on the fundamentals, keep the ball on the other teams side of the field, and don’t be afraid to shoot. It is hard to score without shooting. He also had a few sayings that sort of became his trademark. One that I have always remembered is “talk with your feet, not with your mouth”. This phrase may seem odd to some, so here is where that phrase comes from.

We were playing a game one Saturday. Nothing spectacular about the game. Neither team doing anything special. That all changed when my good friend Willy, who played goalie, received a red card for cussing on the field. The incident was not overly dramatic. He simply disagreed with the referee’s call that resulted in a penalty kick and a goal for the opposing team. Willy let the ref know that it was a “BS” call. The ref decided, rightfully so, to issue a red card. I don’t remember why, but that red card really made me mad.

I did something quite out of character next. I took it out on an opposing player. I proceeded to foul the player for no good reason after the ensuing kick-off. It was not a fair play. In fact, it was a blatant cheap shot, and the player stayed on the ground, needing medical attention from the sideline. I would love to say that I felt guilty, but I don’t remember feeling anything but angry. We were down a player and likely to lose due to a poor call by the referee. My father called me over the sideline for a chat. He asked me why I had fouled the kid. I responded that the call the ref made was BS and that we were going to lose because of it.

Imagine that, a pimpled nose twelve year-old cussing at his coach, his dad, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran. I was wrong, and I knew it, but I did not really care. My father’s response was fascinating. He did not yell. He could have. He would have been justified in putting me in my place. Instead he leaned towards me and spoke softly.

“You need to stop talking with your mouth. Talk is cheap. You need to start talking with your feet. I don’t care if you think the referee’s call was fair. That matter is decided. What has not been decided is the outcome of this game. You have a decision to make. No one on my team plays dirty. You can stay on the field and play the game properly, or you can quit and sit on the sideline next to me.”

I decided to play. In fact, it was probably the best game of my soccer career. We were able to rally as a team. I scored four goals and we ended up winning. Nowadays it seems like athletes talk a lot of trash. It has become “part of the game”. Watch sports – it is commonplace for the players to constantly chirp at the refs. I do not espouse this type behavior. Instead, I try to talk with my feet. It seems to produce better results – which is really what matters.

“At the end of this game, the European Cup will be only six feet away from you, and you’ll not even able to touch it if we lose. And for many of you, that will be the closest you will ever get. Don’t you dare come back in here without giving your all.”

– Sir Alex Ferguson during 1999 European Cup final against Bayern Munich

Attitudes are contagious

My first duty assignment as a new US Army Infantry Officer  was with the 82nd Airborne Division. I arrived at Fort Bragg just as the unit was returning from Operation Desert Storm. I was put in charge of an infantry rifle platoon. I had completed all the training expected of a new Infantry Lieutenant to include Ranger and Jumpmaster school, but I was scared and intimidated by this assignment. The main reason was that every member of the platoon had combat experience, but me. What could I offer these veterans?

I was clueless, so I called my dad. His first duty assignment after graduating from West Point was with the 82nd, and he had more combat experience than anyone I knew. He reassured me that I was fit for duty and would be fine. I pressed him wondering how could I lead these men who all possessed more experience and expertise than me. My father offered a piece of advice that I remember well.

“Bring a positive attitude to work everyday. Attitudes are contagious. You are the leader and you set the tone for the unit. Bad attitudes spread like cancer. A positive attitude will give your men a boost when they need it most. Train your men hard. Set high expectations. Praise them when they do well. Correct them when they fall short and never forget that praise is a force multiplier.”

This advice has served me well over the years. I remember once my platoon was selected to perform a demonstration jump at Fort Gordon for the General in charge of the Signal Corps, and other VIPs on the post to include my Battalion Commander.  My platoon prepared hard for this day. We were ready to put on an awesome demonstration for the crowd. All was going well until we exited the aircraft. I was first out of the plane and could tell right away that we were going to miss the drop zone. I clearly remember shaking my fist at the plane and cursing the pilots as I prepared to execute a tree landing.

The landing was pretty rough. Once on the ground my platoon gathered at the edge of the woods for a quick huddle. We were all pretty bruised and battered from the jump. My platoon sergeant asked me for guidance about how to proceed. My father’s advice came to mind. I looked at the group and said the jump was rough and everyone in the audience would understand if we took our time moving to the assembly area in front of the bleachers. But, we are paratroopers. Americans expect more from us, and we will deliver. That said, I took off running. Every member followed my lead and eventually ran past me in route to the assembly area. The rest of the demonstration was flawless. Afterwards, my Battalion Commander, let me know that the demonstration was impressive, and how proud he was of our performance despite the challenging conditions.

Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.

– Second stanza of the Ranger Creed