“For every man has a mission to perform in this world which his talents precisely fit him; and having found this mission, he must throw in to it all the energies of his being, seeking its accomplishment, not his own glory.”
Fourteen years ago today, on April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed by gunfire while on patrol in a rugged area of eastern Afghanistan. The unfortunate death of this young man occurred in Southeastern Afghanistan in Operation Mountain Storm—a subset effort of the larger Operation Enduring Freedom designed to weaken al-Qaeda forces and the Taliban government. If you don’t know who Pat is let me quickly introduce you to this soldier.
Patrick Daniel Tillman was born the oldest of three brothers in San Jose, California. He played linebacker for Arizona State University, where during his senior year he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. In 1998, Tillman was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. He became the team’s starting safety as well as one of its most popular players. In 2000, he broke the team record for tackles with 224. In May 2002, Tillman turned down a three-year, multi-million-dollar deal with the Cardinals and instead, prompted by the events of 9/11, joined the Army along with his brother Kevin, a minor-league baseball player. The Tillman brothers were assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington, and did tours in Iraq in 2003, followed by Afghanistan the next year.
In today’s world of instant gratification and selfishness, it might not make sense for a man to leave a profession that pays him about $1.2 million a year for a new career that pays about $20,000 a year. However, it makes complete sense when you understand who Tillman was.
Here is a man that was defined by words like loyalty, honor, passion, courage, strength and nobility. He was a low-key guy. By the time Tillman enlisted in the Army in 2002, after four years in the NFL, he understood how the media worked. Still, he decided not to talk to any of them about his decision to enlist. When Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis asked Tillman how he was going to announce leaving the NFL for the service. Tillman’s reply was: “I’m not. You are.”
What is interesting with the Pat Tillman story is the two narratives that typically accompany it.
The first and probably the most popular theme presented assumes that fame and money is the highest mark of success and happiness; therefore we then refer to Pat’s detachment from it as the “ultimate sacrifice.”
The other narratives assumes Pat was naïve for trading the riches of a professional football career to chase Osama bin Laden.
Both are wrong….
I think the narrative that should follow Pat Tillman should simply communicate the story of a man following his calling…his purpose. The money, the fame, even the military service are all secondary to this point! As his former head coach said, “Pat Tillman represented all that was good in sports. He knew his purpose in life and proudly walked away from a career in football to follow his calling.”
To most of America, Tillman is symbol of patriotism.
To others, he is a hero for choosing service over wealth.
To me he is a man who followed his heart….and it led him from the football fields of Arizona to the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.
Pat Tillman discovered his calling, his purpose, his mission and he was willing to risk and sacrifice everything for it. Do you pursue your calling with the same energy?
Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others
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.
I 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…anything. We 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.
According 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
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.
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.
Today, 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.
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.
“In love’s service, only the wounded soldiers can serve.”
On this day in 1782, General George Washington, the commander in chief of the Continental Army, created the “Badge for Military Merit,” a decoration consisting of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk, edged with a narrow binding of silver, with the word Merit stitched across the face. As a testimony to the award’s honor, Washington only awarded the medal to three soldiers.
The decoration was largely forgotten until 1927, when General Charles P. Summerall, the U.S. Army chief of staff, unsuccessfully encouraged Congress to reinstate the award. Four years later, Summerall’s successor, General Douglas MacArthur, took up the cause, hoping to reinstate the medal in time for the bicentennial of Washington’s birth. On February 22, 1932, Washington’s 200th birthday, the U.S. War Department announced the creation of the “Order of the Purple Heart.”
The Order of the Purple Heart, considered the oldest American military decoration for military merit, is now awarded to members of our armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy. I have numerous friends who wear this medal. All their medals and awards tell stories, however this one has a physical and mental cost that they continue to pay. These men are truly warriors.
If life awarded purple hearts we would undoubtedly all have one, most of us probably many. We have all suffered wounds from self-inflicted actions and wounds as the result of others in our life. Similar to treatments and therapy for physical wounds, thankfully there is a healing answer to the wounds we all carry…the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the heart of this good news is a narrative of creation, brokenness, and reconciliation. Simply put, it is a story of redemption. The great thing about redemption is that although our wounds and scars are earthly, they are not eternal.
Sixteen years ago today, Liz and I stood at the altar and made a commitment to each other for the rest of our lives.
Here is a brief snapshot of our blessed life together since that day:
2 boys…who are very much boys
0 cats (this number will remain the same)
A dozen or so lizards…maybe more…maybe less…don’t ask
9 inter-state moves
Too many training exercises, military operations, and deployments to count…
On the day I left for bootcamp in 1996, Liz handed me a small leather bound Bible. She told me she had underlined one verse that spoke from her heart. I spent the next 2 hours on the plane looking for her message. I found it in the Book of Ruth.
3 years of long distance dating and 16 years of marriage and she has never wavered from those words.
To the girl of my dreams, my bride of 16 years; I hope you know:
You still fascinate and inspire me.
You still influence me for the better.
You’re still the object of my desire.
Thank you for another wonderful day of marriage.
“Duty is the sublimest word in our language. … You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.” General Robert E. Lee
On June 15th 1775, George Washington accepted an assignment to lead the Continental Army. Washington had been managing his family’s plantation and serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses when the second Continental Congress unanimously voted to have him lead the revolutionary army.
After accepting the position, Washington sat down and wrote a letter to his wife, Martha, in which he revealed his concerns about his new role. He expressed uneasiness and worry at leaving her alone. He shared with her that he had updated his will and hoped that he would be home by the fall. Washington’s call to duty would not allow him to return “home” for almost 6 years.
As I ponder Washington’s life and his call to duty, I reflect on the lessons I have learned during my time as a Marine. I’ve learned that men will work hard for promotions. I’ve learned that they will work even harder for a great leader. But I’ve also learned that men will work hardest of all when they are dedicated to a calling…when they are dedicated to their duty.
Gentlemen – as fathers – we have an enormous but beautiful duty to shoulder. Our duty: training and equipping our children to live out their lives for the Gospel.
This Father’s Day, I challenge every man to do his duty to those who are in his care and toward whatever task is in his trust, regardless of the personal cost. I pause, myself, to reflect upon ways in which I can serve my family better. I fear I may one day wish I had done more than I did. Let us have no regrets!
Duty recognizes a cause greater than one’s self; it is choosing the right thing rather than the convenient thing. When your duty as a dad calls, how will you answer?
In his best-selling book, The Mission, the Men, and Me, Pete Blaber, a former Delta Force Commander, describes his 3M thought process and priorities when confronted with a different or complex situation.
He describes the first (M) as the mission. This is your organization’s purpose for existing. It should guide everyone’s actions, decisions, and convictions.
The second (M) is the men. These are the individuals in your organization who will bear upon their shoulders the responsibility of accomplishing the unit’s mission. You must lead them but you must also listen to them. More importantly, as Blaber makes clear, the most important way you can take care of your people is by having the moral courage to do what is right by them.
The last (M) is me. The final (M) comes last for a reason. A true leader will always put his/her organization’s mission and people before their own well-being or advancement. As Blaber states, “you have to take care of yourself, BUT only after you have taken care of the mission and the men.”
Although Blaber’s leadership priorities are founded and practiced in a military environment, I believe these principles can also be applied to leadership outside of the military as well. In fact, I witnessed this style of leadership long before I ever joined the military…..from my Grandmother.
A blog post would not do justice to the life of selfless service my Grandmother has demonstrated. Under the roof of her home, she has raised 4 daughters, multiple grandchildren, and currently even a great-grandchild. After a stroke took the mind and part of the body of my Grandfather, I watched as she cared for him with the same love and commitment as newlyweds.
What do my Grandmother and a Delta Force Commander have in common? A leadership style based upon the shared experiences of sacrifice. A life of putting the goals of the organization or family first.
What about you? If one was to assess the priorities of your leadership would it truly be:
- The mission
- The men
- Then me
(In this post the term Marine can be used to describe any service member in our Armed Forces).
There is a myth about Memorial Day. This myth is known by all who have ever served. The myth is that those who sacrificed did so for their country. I think of friends that have lost life, limb, and eyesight in service to their country. Undoubtedly they all volunteered to serve their country. But not one of them died for their country….they died for their fellow Marine.
A few years ago I had the privilege of hearing General John Kelley tell the story of two Marines. Two Marines from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training, and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they were born of the same woman. On this day they were in a city called Ramadi standing watch together with a group of Iraqi Police. Together they were protecting the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines and over 100 Iraqi police.
During their watch a large blue truck turned down the alley way and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically.
During the follow on investigation, six seconds of video tape footage emerged. The recording shows a number of Iraqi police, scattering like the normal and rational men they were—some running right past the Marines. The recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop…the truck’s windshield exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tear in to the body of the one who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers. The two Marines never stepped back. They never started to step aside. They never shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could.
The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God.
Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their country, their flag, or the politics involved in their current deployment.
Six seconds. More than enough time for two very brave young men to think about their brothers…to do their duty.
Marines serve their country but they die for their brothers.
For even more stories detailing this kind of unselfish sacrificial bravery I recommend “They Were Heroes” by David Devany.