Veteran’s Day 2017 – A Special Ceremony

Veteran’s Day this year was a special one. Your Uncle Perry and I had the privilege of escorting Opa to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. Opa participated in a ceremony with his 1956 West Point classmates. Each year they gather at the wall to honor one of their classmates who perished during the war. They read the names of the fallen, share the story of one in detail, and then walk down to where the name of that person is etched on the wall to place a wreath. Family members of the fallen participate. It is a simple ceremony – nothing fancy. No long speeches, no politicians, no fanfare. Just a small group of veterans honoring one of their own. Below are some pictures from the ceremony.

West Point Class of 1956 Veteran's Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial
West Point Class of 1956 Veteran’s Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial

Visiting the wall is difficult for my dad

I am really glad that Opa was brave this year and decided to participate in the ceremony. He usually does not. As you know Opa is a Vietnam veteran. He served three tours there. He lost a lot of friends in the war. Visiting the wall is a draining event for him. It is an emotional one. The wall reminds him of the war, battles fought, lives lost, and the complicated aftermath. I need to let you know that Opa was able to return to the states and live a healthy and productive life after the war. Perry and I are the direct beneficiaries of Opa’s ability to put the war behind him and fulfill the American dream – to provide for your children so that they have an even better life than the one you lived. I have the same dream for both of you and will do all that I can to make that happen.

Visiting the Vietnam Memorial with Opa
Visiting the Vietnam Memorial with Opa

Veteran’s Day is for telling stories

Opa is a generous person, and always willing to help others in need. I have experienced this first hand as his son and witnessed it as he interacts with others. I saw another example of it during this ceremony. After we walked down to the wall Opa called over one of the family members who was there. He was the grown son of a fallen classmate. He is probably my age, or maybe even a little bit older. Opa let this family member know that he was good friends with his father many years ago. Opa shared a funny story that the man had never heard before. Then Opa proceeded to tell this son of his fallen classmate about his father. What his father was like as a man. How he was strong, smart, and a brave soldier. Opa thought the world of his classmate and was very sad when he learned about the untimely death of his good friend. Opa was emotional – his eyes welled up with tears. Fond memories mixed with painful memories from the past. It was a difficult thing for Opa to do, but he did it anyway. Opa gave this man a special gift that morning. The gift of knowing that his own father was a great man. Afterwards, the man thanked Opa for his service, and more importantly for letting him know what his own father was like.

Opa talking to son of fallen classmate
Opa telling story to son of fallen classmate – the gift of memories

Thank you to all the veterans

It is impossible to calculate the toll a war takes on a nation, especially its veterans. So it is important that we honor those who have served. The brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. They deserve our respect and gratitude. Opa is from a generation that fought an unpopular war, in an unknown part of the world, for reasons that are still somewhat of a mystery to this day. It was tough, but he and his generation did their part. Nowadays our country remains entangled in a long war that has cost our nation dearly. Today’s veterans face many of the same challenges that Opa and his classmates did many years ago. One day many years from now they too will gather together and talk about the wars they fought. As for you – do your part. If you see a veteran – thank them for their service. They deserve it, just like Opa.

Opa in Vietnam - Big Ranger
Opa in Vietnam – Big Ranger

Paratroopers bleed the same color – red, white and blue

This year the 82nd Airborne Division is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The 82nd is a great unit, and I learned a lot while serving there. Lessons that have served me well over the years. For a three-week period, I am sharing the top three life lessons I learned while serving as an All-American paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division. Two weeks ago I wrote about the first lesson – leaders go out the door first. Last week I wrote about the second lesson – train until it hurts. Below you will find the third lesson.

Diversity and Division

In our country right now, there is a lot of discussion about diversity and division. Racial tensions are high. We are having a debate about our history. Who should we honor? How should our shared past be remembered? What about the Confederacy, and its leaders? What about the founding fathers? Can we have monuments to those who built our country without erasing the ugly parts of US history? How do we move forward without tearing the country apart? Great questions that do not have easy answers. Diversity is a tough and complicated topic. I do not pretend to have all the answers. I do understand diversity because I have seen a successful model before while serving in the 82d Airborne Division which is also known as the All American Division. It was constituted, originally as the 82nd Division 100 years ago, shortly after the US entered into World War I. Since its initial members came from all 48 states, the division acquired the nickname All-American, which is the basis for its famed “AA” shoulder patch that is pictured below.

82d Airborne Division patch
82d Airborne Division patch – the AA on the patch stands for All-American

When I arrived in 1991 it was still known as the All-American division because its members came from all parts of the US. We had paratroopers from every state, every US territory, various education levels, economic backgrounds, race, gender, creed, and religion. You name it and there was probably someone in the 82d that came from that background. You saw diversity in all parts of the division. I am not going to pretend that everything was perfect. Nostalgic perspectives are not helpful. We had our challenges, but somehow our diversity was not a stumbling block. Rather it was a strength. Everyone brought their best to accomplish the mission. It was an important phase of my life when I learned that people of very different backgrounds can work together successfully. When I reflect on that time I think there are three reasons why diversity was and is a force multiplier in the All-American division.

Leadership can be learned

The leaders in the 82d Airborne division come from all walks of life. The first battalion I served in, 1st Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, had officers from several sources. There were numerous West Point graduates, many ROTC officers, and prior enlisted soldiers who were commissioned through the Officer Candidate School. The diversity of our Non-Commissioned Officers was even greater. It did not matter much where you came from because leadership is not an inherent trait that only a few possess. There is not an elite segment of American society that provides leaders for the rest of us. No, our leaders come from all over the country. Leadership can be learned. I saw this first-hand in the 82d. I learned about leadership from numerous mentors and watched others learn and grow during their time in the division. We were taught important lessons like leaders set the example, and leaders go out the door first. Leadership lessons that stayed with me over the years. The good news is that any of us can learn to be an effective leader – no matter what you background. If you don’t believe me, then watch this short video.

Standards are standards

All US Army paratroopers are expected to meet stringent standards. No one gets any slack. When I say no one, I mean no one. Does not matter if you are enlisted, an NCO, or an officer. Does not matter if you are black, white, yellow, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Wiccan, male, or female. You either meet the standard, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you are sent away. It starts in Airborne school, continues with Jumpmaster school, and various other airborne training events you are required to complete in order to be a member of the All-American Division. These demanding standards cause an interesting effect. It builds trust. You trust everyone else on the plane during a jump because you know that they have what it takes to be a paratrooper. In case you are not familiar with what it takes to become a paratrooper – this video explains the training. It is old but still accurate.

Nowadays it seems like some people are always looking for shortcuts to success – hacks for life. I am a big fan of trying to figure out ways to improve my performance by working smart versus just working hard. Many experts can help teach you better ways of doing things. But, make sure you are not cutting corners to get around standards. They exist for a reason – to make sure you are proficient. You build trust with your team members and demonstrate that you have what it takes.

Paratroopers bleed the same color – red, white and blue

I have served in other US Army units, and they just don’t have the same camaraderie as the All-American Division. It is a special place. My observation is that paratroopers understand that we all wear green uniforms, maroon berets, and bleed the same color. When I was at Fort Bragg, the community experienced several tragic events to include two planes colliding that resulted in the untimely death of numerous paratroopers in the 82d. I recall the sadness of that event and the heroic deeds of many during and after the accident. It was difficult days for the Division. Everyone came together in a special way to make it through. Nothing new for paratroopers – we have been doing this for over 100 years. The current Division Commander recently gave a speech about the unit that is well worth watching. It sums up what I said above. Paratroopers bleed the same color – red, white and blue. Airborne, All the Way!!

Blondie Forever

This week I saw the band Blondie in concert at Wolf Trap. Beforehand I was not overly excited about the concert. I was looking forward to tailgating in the parking lot with friends but did not have high expectations of the band’s performance. You may not know a lot about Blondie. They were a moderately famous band from the 70s and early 80s. They had multiple radio hits and were pretty well known back in the day. Blondie’s greatest hits album is a good representation of their early musical career if you want to sample it. Boy was I surprised when Blondie took the stage. They were really good and put on a great show. Afterward, I thought about why Blondie was so much better than I expected. I can think of three reasons.

Be your best

Blondie opened the show with the song “One Way or Another”. It is a really upbeat song, and one of my favorites by them. They really set the tone by starting the show with a bang. I noticed right away that their lead guitarist was not one of the original members. He was a rather young man full of talent and energy. I appreciate the fact that Blondie was not afraid to augment their line-up with new members. It made them a stronger band and helped them be their best for their fans. Don’t be afraid to include others who can help you be the best that you can be, even if you become rich and famous.

Continue creating

Blondie played several songs from their new album, Pollinator, during the show. I have listened to their new album several times, and it is actually pretty good. Not their best album, but better than most new music I have heard this year. Whenever a famous band puts out and plays new music they are taking a risk. Their fans are always going to compare the new music to their old hits like I just did. This comparison is not really fair, but it happens nonetheless. I appreciate the fact that Blondie continues to create – writing new songs, recording them, releasing them, and playing them live. One of my favorite bands, U2, takes a similar approach. They continue to put out a new album every few years. In contrast, many other bands stopped creating new music years ago. Instead, they rely on their past accomplishments and simply play their greatest hits during their concerts. Simply put, this approach is lazy. Artists should continue creating. I want to encourage you to continue creating over your lifetime. Don’t stop and rest on your laurels, relying on your past accomplishments to carry the day.

Blondie new album
The new Blondie album is actually pretty good – a nice surprise.

Keep kicking

Blondie’s lead singer, Debbie Harry, is no spring chicken. In fact, she is over 70 years old. But you would never guess that watching her perform in concert. She does a great job singing their songs, moving around the stage, dancing to the music, raising the energy level of the audience. I was really impressed with her performance. Let’s face it – it is probably no easy task for Debbie to complete a concert. Rock-n-roll is a young person’s profession, but you would never guess that watching Blondie in concert. They are still touring, and keep kicking. I sure hope I have her kind of energy and enthusiasm when I am over 70 years old, and I hope you will too.

Just so it is clear – I am not endorsing Blondie as model citizens, or saying that you should act like rock stars. Rather, I am exploring ways to learn something new from them. I think we can learn something from everyone, as long as we are paying attention.

Here is a video from Blondie’s early days – probably their most famous song, “Heart of Glass”. It was filmed in a disco – old school.

Here is a video from their new album. The song is called “Long Time”

Play the game hard, and have fun along the way

The past three posts focused on playing the game hard and making the most of every opportunity. I don’t want you to think that life should be all hard work, and no fun at all. Remember to have some fun along the way, especially after you finish a big project, or complete something that has taken a long time to achieve. I call this spiking the ball. You will notice in sports that athletes celebrate after they achieve victory. I am not saying that you need to make a big deal every time you achieve something. For example, it is silly to celebrate getting a first down in football if your team is losing. You still have work to do, so give the ref the ball and head back to the huddle.

It is okay to spike the ball after a big accomplishment - like scoring a touchdown.
It is okay to spike the ball after a big accomplishment – like scoring a touchdown.

Celebrate your victories

Appropriate situations where you see athletes celebrate is hitting a home run in baseball, scoring a touch down in football, winning a race, making the winning shot in basketball, and winning an important game. It is perfectly okay to celebrate these achievements. The bigger the win the bigger the celebration. High five your teammates, raise your arms and commemorate a hard-fought victory. Try to do the same in life when you get the chance. These moments help provide inspiration when life is difficult, and things do not go your way. There may come a day when the thought that keeps you going through a rough patch is the memory of a victory and how you felt in that moment.

I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can be heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day
– Heroes by David Bowie

Play the game hard – play to win…always

Great players and teams play to win…always, always, always. I recommend that you do the same. There is a reason they keep score in sports – to separate the winners from the losers. I am suggesting that life is not much different. There are winners and losers in life, and I do not want you to join the latter group. It is easy to be a loser. Winning, on the other hand, takes a lot…sometimes all that you have.

The Williams Sisters are a good example

We marvel at individuals and teams who play the game hard and win all the time. A good example of a winner is Serena Williams. She is the best woman tennis player in the world. She won her first grand slam title at the age of 17 in 1999. Over the weekend she won her 23rd grand slam title which is an amazing achievement. No doubt – she is the best and always plays to win, even when she plays against her own sister.

Serena and Venus Williams are both champions who always play to win.
Serena and Venus Williams are both champions who always play to win.

I have already talked about playing fair – it is essential. All true winners, play fair and do not cheat. Simply put – cheaters are losers. I encourage you to play the game of life hard and play to win…always. Remember the words of the apostle Paul, a follower of Christ.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27

Play the game hard – play your best

Great teams are comprised of players who not only play their part – they also play their best. They give their all on a regular basis. What does it mean to play your best?. I am defining it in two ways. First, the things you don’t do when playing your best. You don’t slack, you don’t cut corners, you don’t go through the motions. Second, is a short list of what you actually do when playing your best.

– You play your part: see the previous lesson for details
– You prepare yourself: both physically and mentally.
– You practice hard: simulate and rehearse at full speed.
– You perform: give your best when it is game time.
– You learn from mistakes: not everything will go as expected.
– You get better: keep improving to achieve greatness.

Walter Payton was known for his brutal hill training routine. Few could complete his workouts.
Walter Payton was known for his brutal hill training routine. Few could keep up.

Walter Payton was a beast

I am a big fan of figuring out new ways to get results through modern training methods. As a culture, we have figured out better ways to do a whole lot of things. But, I have yet to see someone who consistently delivers impressive results that does not give their best on a regular basis. Slackers take the easy road that leads to mediocrity. Many talk a big game, but few actually deliver the results. Walter Payton trained hard, really hard in the off-season. He showed up every season in top shape and became a legend in the process.

Never die easy. Why run out of bounds and die easy? Make that linebacker pay. It carries into all facets of your life. It’s okay to lose, to die, but don’t die without trying, without giving it your best.
Walter Payton

Set goals, and then achieve them

The older you get, the more the years seem to just slip away. Take the time during your winter break to set some goals for the New Year. Setting goals can feel overwhelming at times, so keep it simple. I usually try to determine the destination I want to reach by the end of the year. Think about what is it I want to achieve in 2017. The more specific you are when setting your goals, the better. For example, it is easy to say I want to get in better shape this year. Anyone can say that, and it probably will not inspire you. A better goal would be that I want to complete to be able to perform 100 push-ups or run the Army Ten-Miler in less than 80 minutes.

Running the Army Ten miler under 80 minutes is a clear goal.
Running the Army Ten-miler under 80 minutes is a clear goal. I did not run that fast in 2015.

All progress matters so measure it

The simple act of setting goals and writing them down helps put you on the path to achieving them. Last year I set a goal to read one book a month. I was watching too much television. I did not fully achieve the goal, but I did make a lot of progress. It is important to track your progress in order to hold yourself accountable. The list below tracks what I read last year.

Jan – Othello
Feb – King Lear
Mar – Why should anyone be led by you
Apr – None
May – None
Jun – First 90 days
Jul – The Obstacle is the Way
Aug – Ego is the Enemy
Sep – The Power of Habit
Oct – Outliers
Nov – Essentialism
Dec – Call for a New Strenuous Age

The list is hardly impressive, but it does show that progress was achieved. I have found that if I do not set goals, write them down, and track progress, then I tend to get less done. I kind of just muddle my way through the year…no way to live.

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you someone who will change history. Give me someone with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.” JC Penney