Master your craft – lessons from a Jumpmaster

This week our country celebrated the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. Despite many challenges the invasion was successful and turned the tide of WWII. Many brave men participated in this operation to include multiple US Army Airborne Divisions. Paratroopers actually jumped into France the day before D-day to secure critical roads, bridges, and other strategic objectives. Their bravery, valor, and courage contributed greatly to the success of the invasion.

My first duty assignment as a brand new Army Infantry Officer was with the 82 Airborne Division. My job title was rifle platoon leader, and one of my roles was serving as a Jumpmaster. A Jumpmaster’s job is to make sure all the paratroopers aboard the planes exit the aircraft safely so that they can land and complete their assigned mission. Jumpasters play a critical role in every airborne operation. It is expected that all leaders in the 82d complete Jumpmaster training, and serve in that role. I learned a lot as a Jumpmaster. Below are the top three lessons.

1. Master your craft. The title Jumpmaster says it all. You are expected to become a master parachutist. Jumpmasters are required to complete intense special training to earn the title. The training includes multiple hands-on tests during which you have to clearly demonstrate you know your stuff. I remember being extremely nervous before one of my exams because so many students did not pass it. Once you complete that training, you are required to serve as a Jumpmaster on a regular basis so that your skills stay current. Over time, Jumpmasters earn special awards (senior parachutist badge, and master parachutist badge) to recognize their expert skills and experience. I think it is important that you master your craft over time. Become the best that you can at whatever it is you decide to do. Don’t be satisfied with just getting by.

2. Realistic rehearsals enhance execution. Before every airborne operation Jumpmasters walk everyone that is jumping that day through several realistic rehearsals. The first rehearsal takes the paratroopers through the steps involved when jumping. As the Jumpmaster talks the paratroopers simulate exactly what will happen to them during the jump. The rehearsal also covers things that could happen such as your parachute does not open, or you have to land in the trees. In case you are wondering – tree landings are scary. Next, everyone practices landing…BTW it usually hurts when you land. After that, all jumpers practice “actions in the aircraft” as a group. During this step, you literally rehearse everything that happens in the air on the ground. The reality is that everyone has jumped before, so you are not teaching anything new. Rather, you are practicing as a group so that every jumper knows exactly what they are supposed to do once you get in the air. No one wants any surprises in the aircraft.

I have jumped over 50 times, and I can tell you that all these rehearsals work well to enhance execution. On more than one occasion something went wrong in the aircraft, or during the jump. For one operation the Air Force pilots flew along the edge of the drop zone thinking that the wind would blow us over the target. It didn’t. In fact the opposite happened. Every jumper was forced to land in the trees. After exiting the aircraft, I gave the pilots a middle finger salute thanking them for their incompetence, and then executed all the steps required for a successful tree landing. I recommend that you use realistic rehearsals to enhance execution in your own life. Practice every step as realistically as you can. It will pay dividends. I know from my own experience that rehearsing before any presentation is a really good idea. It prevents gremlins from showing up.

3. Confidence calms fears. Jumpmaster are trained to be calm at all times in the aircraft. You job is to set the example for the jumpers to follow. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane at 800 feet with over 50 pounds of equipment, many times at night, is not a natural act. In case that does not scare you – every piece of equipment used in the operation, to include the plane, was built by the lowest bidder. It makes perfect sense for every jumper to have fear and/or anxiety as you prepare to jump. I know that I was nervous during every jump I ever made.

To counter this fear, the Jumpmasters guide the paratroopers through a series of steps using loud and clear commands. The way it works is that the Jumpmaster yells the commands to all the jumpers along with a visual signal. The paratroopers all echo back the command indicating they heard it, and then perform the action. These steps are completed so that everyone is ready to jump when the doors open. Once the doors open, the Jumpmaster inspects it and gets the first jumper ready. The pilot will turn on the green light and everyone exits the aircraft. It sounds simple, but it can be scary. Reality definitely hits you when the doors open and the light turns green. No time for fear at that point.

The final lesson to learn from this old Jumpmaster is that it is okay to have fear. What you do with that fear is important. If you master your craft, and conduct realistic rehearsals, then you will have the confidence needed to overcome any fear. You will be able to jump when the time comes.

For anyone who is not familiar with airborne operations – this video is a nice summary. All the Way, Airborne!!

If you only have a minute, try this one. It is about Jumpmasters.

Hit the reset button – New York blunder

As you know, this past weekend Gavin and I visited New York City. It was a great trip, and every thing was going really well until we arrived at the airport for our trip back home. Once at the airport I noticed that our flight was not listed on the arrival board which seemed strange. I should have stopped there, but we went through security and on to the departure gate. At this point, I could tell something was wrong. Our flight was not listed at the gate, so I checked my ticket. Crap – our flight did not depart at 9 AM…but 9 PM. I made a huge blunder, a really big error. We were at the airport twelve hours early with nothing to do, and no other flights available.

What to do next? Gavin and I pondered the situation and we decided to hit the reset button on the day. We trekked back to NYC, found a place to store our luggage, and spent another day exploring NYC. The weather was not great, but we had a good time being tourists. We went to the top of the rock, hung out in Times Square, visited the wax museum, explored Ripley’s, and an array of other attractions. The day was topped off with New York cheesecake at a diner. Not a bad day considering we had not planned any of it beforehand.

As this experience shows – sometimes you have to hit the reset button on a day. The bottom line is that I messed up big time. But, we could recover from it. Rather than spending the day beating myself up over my mistake (Gavin did a nice job reminding me about it), I decided to get on with it, and make the most of what was left of the day. The ability to “hit the reset button” is an important skill in life. Many times, you will make stupid mistakes, or have things not go your way. It is easy to get really upset about the situation, and even pout about it. But, a more mature response, is to get over it, and then get on with it. You will be amazed at what will happen when you hit the reset button – you will meet new people, see new places, and gain new experiences.

Keep this lesson in mind the next time you travel, and things take a turn for the worse. I have traveled a fair bit, and trust me, these kind of things happen. Flights are delayed, and your plans will need to change. Hopefully, I will avoid making this kind of big blunder again. But, if it does, I know what I will do. Hit the reset button, and start all over again.

Standing in the middle of nowhere,
Wondering how to begin.
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday,
Between now and then.

And now we’re back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again
– Do It Again by the Kinks

How should we honor the fallen?

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It is an important holiday, and I want to make sure we honor the fallen properly. This holiday has become confusing for many Americans. Nowadays, some treat Memorial in the same manner as Veteran’s Day. They are two distinct holidays with different purposes. Memorial Day is the day we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our great country. Veteran’s Day, on the other hand, is the day we honor those who have served in our military. Given that Memorial Day is when we are supposed to honor the fallen, the natural questions is how should we do that. Three ideas comes to mind.

1. Remember their heroic deeds. All Americans should pause this weekend and think about those who died for our freedom. There are several ways to do this – read a book about military history, visit a military monument, or watch a military history movie. Over the years I have done all three of these activities many times. My favorite book about military history is Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. The movie about this unbelievable US Army Ranger raid is also great. My favorite military monument is at the top of Pointe Du Hoc where the US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs on D-Day. My favorite military history movie is a tie between The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far. Both are great, and based on books written by Cornelius Ryan.

2. Visit the battlefields where they fought. The best way to get a sense of what our fallen experienced is to visit where they fought. Walk the battlefield, learn their stories, and ponder what happened. This summer, you will get the opportunity to see some of the most historic battlefields and cemeteries in the world when we go to Normandy. We will see firsthand what our troops faced on D-Day, visit several museums, and pay our respects at the cemetery. I believe it will be an eye opening experience for both of you. I am looking forward to showing you this important piece of our history.

3. Honor their sacrifice. This one can be challenging, so I would be plain. In my opinion the best way to honor the sacrifice of the fallen is to live a life worth living. Make the most of what you have been given. As an American you have more opportunity than most people in this world. Our freedom was paid for by others. Don’t squander their sacrifice. Get out there and make something of yourself.

In the movie Saving Private Ryan (another great war movie), there is a powerful scene at the end. Tom Hanks character Captain John Miller is severely wounded. He tells Private Ryan played by Matt Damon to “earn this”, and then he dies. The message is the same as what I am saying here. In the next scene, Private Ryan is in cemetery at Normandy, and remembers those words, and thinks about his life. Watch the clip below. It actually makes me cry every time I watch it.

Start off by making your bed

Today marks the first year anniversary of writing this blog. It has been a great experience, and hopefully both of you have learned something from the blog posts. Several people have provided positive feedback about the blog, and indicated they enjoy reading the weekly posts. I plan to keep on blogging, to keep looking for wisdom to pass on, and to discover new topics worthy of discussion. I learn a lot from others, so I will pass along their wisdom to you, rather than just fill the page with my own thoughts. With that in mind, I am going to start the new year off sharing some simple advice from one of America’s great warriors. Admiral William McRaven.

This time of year is graduation season. Celebrities, politicians, scholars, and many others take the graduation stage to dispense advice to high school and college students as they end one chapter of their life, and start a new one. Many graduation speeches are dull – full of cliches and dumb jokes. Occasionally, you will hear one that is excellent. In 2014, Admiral McRaven gave the commencement speech at the University of Texas. It was called 10 Lessons from my Years as a Navy Seal. It is a brilliant speech full of wisdom and insight. Below is a short excerpt from his speech. It is a simple idea, but a powerful one.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

It may sound trivial, but the act of making your bed every morning helps get the day off on the right foot. I recommend you take up this habit. In case you want to hear the rest of Admiral McRaven’s speech, here is the link to the Youtube video. It is well worth watching.

Honor your parents – they will need you

As you know, this week has been a rough one for my parents, your Oma and Opa. They were in a bad car accident that totaled their car, and left both of them injured. Your Uncle Perry and Cousin Cooper went to the hospital, and drove them home. I met all of them at home to try and get mom and dad settled in. We have been doing our best to make sure they are cared for while they heal. It is a long road ahead, but I am really glad we are able to help my parents.

The Bible teaches us that we are supposed to honor our parents. Some days I am not exactly sure what that means. This past week, the answer was clear to me. Honoring my parents meant helping them out in their time of need. At other times, I try to honor my parents by spending time with them. We do not do much other than talk about life. They really enjoy hearing about how each of you is doing, and how things are going. Nowadays, I live near them (only a few miles away), so it is not too difficult to visit them once a week.

For many years I did not do a great job staying connected with my parents. I was always too busy to spend time with them. As a result, I grew distant from my parents. I am really glad that I saw the error of my ways, and decided to make a change. It would have been an awful shame, and I would have missed out on a lot of great conversations. As you get older, I hope that we get the opportunity to spend time together. It will be time well spent.

Exodus 20:12 – “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Be a learner – avoid repeated mistakes

It is impossible to always make good decisions. Everyone makes mistakes – some big, some small. What is important is that you learn from your mistakes, and avoid repeating them. One of the reasons I enjoy traveling so much is that you get to see the world, and you learn a lot about life. Unfortunately some of it is due to mistakes I make, bad decision, or short sighted judgments.

For example, it was a mistake not to use the free wi-fi that was available at the resort on our trip to Cancun last year. As a result, we wracked up hundreds of dollars in extra roaming charges – a costly mistake. Another example – it was a bad decision to return a rental car in Germany without the gas tank full. The customer service person was not thrilled, and it cost me a lot of grief and money. Lastly, I was short sighted when I received a parking ticket in Rothenburg and “forgot” to pay it. The rental car company added a hefty fee for dealing with the ticket when they billed my credit card.

These mistakes were learning experiences. I will make sure these mistakes do not happen again. Be a learner – avoid making the same mistakes over an over. Pay particular attention to your mistakes that result in loss, waste, or destruction. You want to avoid mistakes that create broken relationships with family and friends, results in losing large amounts of money, or wasting your time. Instead learn lessons from your mistakes and apply those in future situations. Smart people learn – fools don’t…and none of want to be a fool.

“Wisdom comes from life experience; life experience is the result of repeatedly taking corrective action while courageously learning from mistakes.” ― Ken Poirot

Be a creative force – the world needs ideas

This time last year the world lost two musical geniuses – David Bowie and Prince. These two men were very different people, but both of them were extremely creative. They each produced a large body of work (over 30 albums), full of both hits and misses. I am impressed by the breadth and depth of their creativity, and their drive to make new music. Many rock musicians have a moment of greatness and then sink back into obscurity…never to be heard from again.

Somehow David Bowie and Prince were able to remain relevant for many years. Each of them changed the music scene with their creative ideas. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust, and released one of the best albums of the 70s. He returned a decade later with the album Let’s Dance which was brilliant. Prince ruled the 80s for a few years with his new music and movie Purple Rain. He was already popular by then, but took it to a whole new level. These landmark efforts made each of them a household name which is pretty amazing. Both of them continued writing and releasing music until their last days on earth. They never really faded away.

I encourage you to be a creative force in the world. I am not saying that you need to be musical, or emulate the lifestyle of either Bowie or Prince. Both of them struggled with drugs and relationships. What I am saying is that it takes time, energy, effort, and discipline to be creative, and generate new ideas. Too many people fall into a rut, and never get around to bringing something new into the world. Don’t be like that – contribute your ideas. It is one of the main reasons that God created you. I have already noticed that you are very creative, full of unique ideas. Cultivate and share your ideas. They will make the world a better place.

“Dearly beloved, We are gathered here today, 2 get through this thing called life. Electric word life. It means forever and that’s a mighty long time.” ― Let’s Go Crazy by Prince

Nothing in this world is free – not even you

Last year you will recall that we stayed at an “all inclusive” resort in Cancun Mexico for Spring Break. While there you did not have to pay for any food, coffee, snacks, or drinks. It felt like everything was free…but it was not. The reality is that I paid the resort a fixed price for all of us before we left for the trip. Also, my parents paid for the room so that we could afford the trip. This type of vacation is designed for convenience, and I hope that you truly enjoyed it. I know that I did.

The lesson to learn is that nothing in the world is really free. There is a cost for everything, even if you are not the one paying. It is easy to walk in this world without fully knowing this truth, particularly when it comes to your own life. Today is Easter Sunday. A special day for all of us who choose to follow Christ. Today we celebrate Christ rising from the dead in order to give us new life. I want to make sure you understand what Christ has done for you. He has paid the ultimate price with his own blood for you so that you can have new life. No one else could do what was needed. Don’t forget to thank Him for what he did so that you can live free.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Lessons learned while traveling – Cancun Mexico

As you know, I really enjoy traveling. Seeing other parts of the world is fun. Experiencing other cultures is eye opening. Many of life’s greatest lessons I have learned while traveling. Spring Break is next week, so I was thinking about our trip last year to a luxury resort in Cancun Mexico. My parents were nice enough to let us borrow their time share points to enjoy a week off in paradise.

I hope that you noticed a few things during the trip. First – it is rewarding to take a week off and relax. The place we stayed was awesome. We had great weather, and a chance to truly relax. It is important to take time off and enjoy life. Second – you saw first hand another culture that is much different than ours. Mexicans speak a different language, eat different foods, and take a different approach to work. I was impressed with how hard everyone at the resort worked, and how diligent they were in making sure that we had what we needed during our stay. Lastly, you witnessed first hand the art of haggling. Some items you buy do not really have a set price. Instead you will have to negotiate the cost with the seller – it is expected. I do not pretend to be an expert in haggling, but understand that I will not pay more for something than what I think it is worth.

I hope you learned these lessons and more during our trip. We have several trips coming up soon. Riley – we are going away again this year for Spring Break. I am looking forward to relaxing in the sun, especially with our recent crazy weather. Gavin – I am taking you to New York City for the first time. You will get a chance to see one of the greatest cities in the world. Of course, we have exciting summer vacation trip plans as we visit a new part of Europe. We will see and learn a lot. Great adventure is ahead for us.

So I just sit right here and have another beer in Mexico. Do my best to waste another day
– Beer in Mexico, Kenny Chesney

Each day has its challenges – grind them out

The reality we all face is that each day is full of many different parts, events, activities, and emotions. Some things may go well, others not so well, and some may be horrible. For example, you may do really well on a test in school, but end up with a tough homework assignment that you cannot figure out. It is very rare that I have a day that is either all good, or all difficult. Even days off, and vacation days can have their ups and downs.

Dealing with the good stuff is not hard. Sorting through the crappy stuff can be much more difficult. In fact, it can wear you down. I recommend that you learn how to “grind it out” when faced with something you have to do, and you know may not go well. For example, I . have run many races. It is a rare occurrence that I feel good and run well the entire race. Many times it is not going well at some point in the race and doubt starts to creep in. Questions come to mind like why am I doing this…I should have stayed in bed.

Many times I seriously consider quitting, but then remind myself that I have faced bigger challenges and that I just need to grind out the last few miles. One foot in front of the other, until I reached the finish line. It may result in a horrible finish time, but at least I made it. You know that I play to win, and always want to do my best…but sometimes, just making it to the finish line is the best you can do. That effort alone will pay dividends at a future time. I believe overcoming these small obstacles is critical to achieving big things.

Adversity can strengthen you if you have the will to grind it out.
– Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonalds