Marine Corps

Courage Under Fire

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Early July 1863….

154 years ago, the largest military conflict in North American history began when Union and Confederate forces collided at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The epic battle lasted three days and resulted in a retreat to Virginia by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Throughout my military career, and even still today, I am an avid consumer of military history. When it comes to the Battle at Gettysburg I have continually been awed by the decisions and actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. I have read Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel “The Killer Angels” and watched Jeff Daniels remarkably play Chamberlain in the movie “Gettysburg.” However it was not until I had the privilege of taking a group of my Marines to the actual battlefield that I truly understood this tragic conflict.

gettysburgTogether we climbed the slope of Little Round top and walked the path of Pickett’s Charge. We studied the defensive positions on Cemetery Hill and continually discussed the decision making of opposing Generals Lee and Meade. From human factors to combined arms, we immersed ourselves in the significance of this three day battle.

During a moment of reflection on the hallowed ground of Little Round Top, I paused to think about the decisions Chamberlain had to make. Against all odds, he stubbornly and courageously rallied his forces. Many historians claim his actions saved the day and possibly turned the tide of the Civil War. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation simply stated: “For daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on Big Round Top.”

It has been seven years since I was last at Gettysburg. I no longer view Chamberlain’s actions through the lens of a fighter leader. I now view his actions through the lens of a father leader. The battlefield I must now protect and hold is called my home. At stake is the hearts and minds of my wife and children.

The world will continually tell my wife and children lies about their identity.

They will be continually be presented with expectations that drown their worth.

They will continually be attacked….

But like Chamberlain I will not back down. I will continue to love, lead and serve well. I will continue to point them to the Father who created us for His glory.

I have always been amazed at how one man can change the course of a battle. Husbands and Fathers….more than ever before, I believe it is our duty to now do so.

Will you join me?

A Battle Worth Fighting

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Throughout my military career, and even still today, I am an avid consumer of military history.  Probably because I spent a majority of my military career on the east coast, I am particularly drawn to the Civil War. Like many who study this time period, I am often draw to the Battle at Gettysburg.

When it comes to this battle, I have continually been awed by the decisions and actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. I have read Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel “The Killer Angels” and watched Jeff Daniels remarkably play Chamberlain in the movie “Gettysburg.” However it was not until I had the privilege of taking a group of my Marines to the actual battlefield that I truly understood this tragic conflict.

gettysburgTogether we climbed the slope of Little Round top and walked the path of Pickett’s Charge. We studied the defensive positions on Cemetery Hill and continually discussed the decision making of opposing Generals Lee and Meade. From human factors to combined arms, we immersed ourselves in the significance of this three day battle.

During a moment of reflection on the hallowed ground of Little Round Top, I paused to think about the decisions Chamberlain had to make. Against all odds, he stubbornly and courageously rallied his forces. Many historians claim his actions saved the day and possibly turned the tide of the Civil War. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation simply stated: “For daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on Big Round Top.”

It has been six years since I was last at Gettysburg. I no longer view Chamberlain’s actions through the lens of a fighter leader. I now view his actions through the lens of a father leader. The battlefield I must now protect and hold is called my home. At stake is the hearts and minds of my wife and children.

The world will continually tell my wife and children lies about their identity.

They will continually be presented with expectations that drown their worth.

They will continually be attacked….

I have always been amazed at how one man can change the course of a battle. Husbands and Fathers….more than ever before, I believe it is our duty to do so now!!

Like Chamberlain we must not back down. We must continue to love, lead and serve well. We must continue to point them to the Father who created us for His glory.

This is a battle worth fighting….Will you join me?

A 9/11 Moment in 1983

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Thirty-three years have passed since the largest non-nuclear explosion since World War II took the lives of 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. At about 6:20 in the morning on October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes truck charged through the barbed-wire fence around the American compound in Beirut and plowed past two guard stations. It drove straight into the barracks and exploded.  beruit

Eyewitnesses said that the force of the blast caused the entire building to float up above the ground for a moment before it pancaked down in a cloud of pulverized concrete and human remains. That day was the largest single-day loss of life of Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Americans were shocked at the devastation, but at the time few grasped the significance of the deadly bombing. It marked the emergence of a deadly new form of terrorism never seen on this scale. For those who served or joined soon thereafter, this was their generation’s 9/11 moment…a call to service in the midst of a terror attack.

Almost all of the 241 deceased service members were from Camp Lejeune, NC.  241 dads, husbands, and friends from one town gone in an instant…the impact was devastating to the small military town of Jacksonville, NC.  Imagine what it would do to your community to lose that many of your men in one moment.

Beirut_Memorial_1Today, near the entrance to Camp Johnson, a subsidiary base of Camp Lejeune, a memorial wall is nestled among the Carolina pines. The Beirut Memorial Wall, completed on Oct. 23, 1986, bears a list of those Americans who died in Lebanon. Only four words are inscribed on the Wall: “They Came in Peace.”

The Marines lost at Beirut are also remembered in another way. Soon after the attack, a middle school class in Jacksonville decided to raise money for a memorial for the Marines. The money they raised was used to purchase 241 trees.trees

For over a decade on my way to work, I would drive down Highway 24 (Lejeune Blvd) into the main entrance of Camp Lejeune. What makes this drive different is the center lane. It is lined with the 241 Bradford Pear Trees purchased by local students….one for each man lost.

What many don’t know is that on the other side of the world there is a matching set of trees. In 1992, the director of the Haifa, Israel USO coordinated the creation of a memorial park that included 241 olive trees.  The trees lead to an overpass on Mount Carmel looking toward Beirut.

Col. Charles Dallachie, who was a survivor of the Beirut Bombing once wrote, “For Marines, great victories, great defeats and great sacrifices are never forgotten, but are remembered with battle streamers attached to unit colors. Unfortunately, there are no battle streamers to remember the ultimate sacrifice made in 1983 by Marines, sailors and soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon.”

He is correct, for the Marines lost at Beirut there are no battle streamers…there are only trees.

Leadership 101: Leaders Do More With Less

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We had a saying in the Marine Corps, “We have been doing so much with so little for so long that we can practically do anything with nothing.” Translation:  “Marines do more with less.”

One of the most important skill sets of any great leader is resourcefulness. It’s about realizing that you can do more with less because you and your team have more potential than you may have thought before.

more with lessIt’s about what we do when the precise resource that we need is not at hand.

It’s about how hard we look to find its replacement or to solve the problem at a difficult, maybe even overwhelming moment.

For our businesses or ministry, it doesn’t mean just exhausting every option, but finding new options that never previously occurred to us.

History shows resourcefulness has separated ordinary people from those considered heroes. It has been applied to get people out of tight spots, as in the near-fatal Apollo 13 mission. It has also been applied to change the way we travel, as demonstrated by the Wright Brothers.  Scripture too provides us with some great examples of resourcefulness. When a paralyzed man could not be brought close enough to Jesus because of a large crowd, a few of his friends put their minds together and devised a plan. Luke tells us they climbed atop the roof of the house in which Jesus stood and cut a hole in it.  This band of determined friends then lowered their buddy down in the presence of Jesus.  And whose faith did the Lord praise? Not the man with the infirmity. The resourceful characters who may have ruined someone else’s roof received the acclaim. They evidently understood what was more important than anything else at that moment in time….Jesus Christ.

In part, I think resourcefulness is a matter of attitude rather than access. A true leader wants to redefine the possible: extract greater results from the same hours or minutes, cut through the clutter of to-dos and focus on how to get real results. Because for a leader, there is no such thing as limited resources, there are only opportunities for innovation and self-realization…like cutting a hole in someone’s roof for the sake of a friend.

Leadership 101: Lesson #2

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Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others

not about  youAs leaders, we do too much and love too little.  Yes, love.  That’s exactly what I said.

Okay, maybe you’re uncomfortable with the “L” word in a leadership context.  So, what if we use the “C” word – Care….Or, the “A” word – Appreciate. Would that make you feel better?

I still choose the word love.

The greatest leaders I ever had in the Marine Corps loved me and I knew it. I knew that they would sacrifice themselves for me or the misson at hand.  That type of love served as an unbreakable bond for some of the best units I ever served with.

vinceI once read an article about Vince Lombardi, the iconic, hard-driving, tough football coach. The author had attempted to show a sneak peek of the person behind the coach, the person who was passionate about growing each team member in a highly intimate and personal way.  On separate occasions, each of the former players surprised the writer with a very similar sentiment about Lombardi; “I have never been so loved by someone outside my family.  We all knew he would do anything for us…anythingWe would go through walls for this man.”

Coach Lombardi earned the right to drive his team to the limit, because his intense drive was balanced by his equally intense love for each man.  He awakened in his players the respect, drive, and love he held within himself.  When people know that a leader loves them great things are possible.

When I think of a leader’s love I am also reminded of Army Captain William Swenson. On September 8, 2009, Swenson was part of an operation to connect the Afghan government with native elders in the Ganjgal Valley in Eastern Kunar Province in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.

capt-swensonAccording to the U.S. Army’s detailed Official Narrative, Swenson’s force was ambushed at about 6 a.m. by as many as 60 insurgent fighters who soon surrounded the column on three sides. Swenson called for air support and with two comrades crossed 50 meters of open space under direct enemy fire to administer life-extending first aid to his severely wounded sergeant.

When the column was surrounded by enemy fighters that advanced within 50 meters, Swenson responded to Taliban demands for surrender by throwing a hand grenade, an act of defiance that rallied his men to repel the enemy advance.

Swenson and his men moved his sergeant and the other wounded to a helicopter for medical evacuation before returning to the enemy’s “kill zone” for at least two more trips in an unarmored vehicle to evacuate additional wounded.  After the 7 hour firefight had ended, 15 coalition soldiers were dead.

What most people don’t know, is that Swenson is considered the only living Medal of Honor Awardee to have a portion of his actions captured on camera. The event was captured by two different MedEvac crew members and shows each crew member’s perspective of events spanning the same time period.  (You can see the video here but keep reading below first!)

What makes this video so special is not the dust, the bullets, or the chaos, but the actions of a leader. At about the 4:10 mark you can see Swenson lean over, look at his wounded soldier, and gently kiss his forehead.  It would be the last time he ever saw Sergeant Westbrook…he died soon after the ambush.

The army’s official account makes no mention of the kiss Swenson gave one of his men. But that one act explains everything about true leaership…..

Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others

Leadership 101: Lesson #1

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not about you

(Throughout my career in the military and now in the ministry I have been blessed to work with some amazing leaders. After reflecting on what they have taught me I have written a short series called Leadership 101.  The aim of this series is to share a few simple short lessons on leadership traits and principles.)

Lesson #1: It’s Not About You

I remember the day I was promoted to Captain a friend and mentor who pinned the bars on my collar looked me in the eyes and simply said, “Remember, today is not about you.”

This was not the first time I had ever heard this lesson. It was engrained in my brain from the first day I attended boot camp and I was continually reminded of it by the personal examples of the many Marines I served with. The classic manifestation of this is that in the Marines, leaders eat last. (I wrote about that here). That tradition set the leadership tone for each unit I served with.

While learning and preparing for leadership roles is an inward exercise requiring self-reflection and personal discipline, the actual practice of quality leadership is entirely an outward exchange. This change in perspectives is often the biggest challenge for leaders. As Jack Welch, former CEO of GE once said, “The day you become a leader, it becomes about them. Your job is to walk around with a can of water in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other hand. Think of your team as seeds and try to build a garden. It’s about building these people, not about the gardener.”

But when I truly reflect on this lesson, I am reminded of Marine First Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff. On 9 December 2006, Nate was killed in an IED attack while supporting 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in al-Amariyah, Iraq. At his memorial service his parents shared the last letter they received from him about a month before:

nate“…My success will be gauged by the responsibility to lead my Marines and accomplish the mission, not by any other metric. I’m lucky to be deploying with such a phenomenal, savvy group of guys. I choose this and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not about me.

Love you guys, Nate”

Nate chose a path that was hard for him and for his family, on behalf of the rest of us. His family members, while suffering the unimaginable pain caused by Nate’s death, doubled down on national service. His brother, Austin, accepted a commission as a Marine officer just days after Nate was killed. Their father, orthopedic surgeon Bill Krissoff, was inspired by Nate’s service to the extent that he sought and received an age-waiver from President George W. Bush to join the Naval Medical Corps at the age of 62. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in honor of his son.

Leadership Lesson #1: It’s not about you…..

A Terrorist Attack and Trees

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Thirty-two years have passed since the largest non-nuclear explosion since World War II took the lives of 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. At about 6:20 in the morning on October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes truck charged through the barbed-wire fence around the American compound in Beirut and plowed past two guard stations. It drove straight into the barracks and exploded.

beruit

Eyewitnesses said that the force of the blast caused the entire building to float up above the ground for a moment before it pancaked down in a cloud of pulverized concrete and human remains. That day was the largest single-day loss of life of Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima. It was also the deadliest attack on Americans prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Americans were shocked at the devastation, but at the time few grasped the significance of the deadly bombing. It marked the emergence of a deadly new form of terrorism never seen on this scale.

Almost all of the 241 deceased service members were from Camp Lejeune, NC.  241 dads, husbands, and friends from one town gone in an instant…the impact was devastating to the small military town of Jacksonville, NC.

Beirut_Memorial_1Today, near the entrance to Camp Johnson, a subsidiary base of the Camp Lejeune complex, a memorial wall is nestled among the Carolina pines. The Beirut Memorial Wall, completed on Oct. 23, 1986, bears a list of those Americans who died in Lebanon. Only four words are inscribed on the Wall: “They Came in Peace.”

The Marines lost at Beirut are also remembered in another way. Soon after the attack, a middle school class in Jacksonville decided to raise money for a memorial for the Marines. The money they raised was used to purchase 241 trees.

trees

As you drive down Highway 24 (Lejeune Blvd) into the entrance of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, you may not notice the center lane lined with 241 Bradford Pear Trees, one for each man lost.

What many don’t know is that on the other side of the world there is a matching set of trees. In 1992, the director of the Haifa, Israel USO coordinated the creation of a memorial park that included 241 olive trees.  The trees lead to an overpass on Mount Carmel looking toward Beirut.

Col. Charles Dallachie, who was a survivor of the Beirut Bombing once wrote, “For Marines, great victories, great defeats and great sacrifices are never forgotten, but are remembered with battle streamers attached to unit colors. Unfortunately, there are no battle streamers to remember the ultimate sacrifice made in 1983 by Marines, sailors and soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon.”

He is correct, for the Marines lost at Beirut there are no battle streamers..there are only trees.