JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Last year I wrote a commentary about teamwork, commitment and trust and highlighted a significant point in our nation’s aviation history exemplifying a combination of all three - the Wright Brothers and the first flight. These are not the only components of a successful unit, business or organization. There are a few more I would like to share this year. Last spring I had a unique opportunity to speak at a banquet honoring the top 40 high school graduates in Lincoln County, North Carolina. I was born and raised in this small community where the graduates from four high schools were about to embark on pursuing their next dreams. I told them I believe the keys to success in life are education, leadership and “paying it back.”
“Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” - Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, mother to John Quincy Adams and often referred to as both the first second lady and the second first lady.
Education is important. Whether instilled by your parents, teachers, coaches, church pastor, community leaders, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts or uncles….it doesn’t matter; they all play a part. Education is not a destination. It is a never-ending journey and a lifetime pursuit. There is no finish line unless you choose one. The “true” student will always continue to learn, absorb and apply those lessons to life. The true student never halts or cuts the journey short. The journey is enhanced by the teachers who impact your life and make lasting impressions. I would like to share a special college professor of mine with you.
Major Thomas Dion, “Maj. D.” as he was affectionately known, was a professor in the Civil Engineering department at the Citadel. He was down to earth and a real southern gentleman. He referred to everybody as “Bubba” and always said, “If you need to burn the midnight oil to get it done, then burn the midnight oil.” Maj. D. was tough, fair and had very high expectations of his students. Our first test in sophomore surveying class was four problems. When the grades were returned you received a 100, 75, 50, 25 or 0. As we reviewed the test, one of my classmates stated, “Maj. D., I only made a simple math error, otherwise I followed the right steps.” To this he replied, “Bubba, I don’t want to be driving over the new Cooper River Bridge one day knowing one of my students who designed it received partial credit. You don’t get partial credit for designing the bridge. It’s right or it’s wrong.” Attention to detail and cross-checking your work…Maj. D. was tough on both. The final test of the year contained the same number of problems; however, grades ranged from a 60 to a 100. Again, during the review, one of my classmates chimed in, “I just had a couple of minor errors and you deducted 10 points on this 25-point problem.” Maj. D. just smiled, winked and said, “Remember, Bubba, I don’t give partial credit.”
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” - John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States.
Second, leadership, guidance and support assist to direct those educational opportunities and learning tools into a successful outcome. Believe it or not, this 5’5” guy played high school basketball. Coach Lavell Hall who coached junior varsity and varsity basketball for 14 years at Lincolnton High School was my JV basketball coach and I was a senior his first year as varsity coach in 1984-85. We finished 9-13 and lost in the first round of the conference tournament. But that is not what I remember the most. About halfway through the season, we played our cross-county rival, East Lincoln High School. About midway through the first half, Coach Hall was less than pleased with the starters’ performance, so he called on the second string…I was second string. We held our own until the starters returned midway through the second half with the same result. We only lost by a few points but I remember the locker room that night. Coach Hall was emphatic, “I am disappointed in your play tonight, you did not give your team a 100% and you are better than that. Tomorrow morning (Saturday) practice at eight in the gym.” Next morning, only a few of the players showed, not much basketball, mostly running and endurance training. The next Monday at practice all 12 players showed. However, many still owed Coach Hall a Saturday practice and he reminded them. Five players quit the team and only seven remained to play our other crosstown rival, West Lincoln, the following week. We survived the season with a less than successful win-loss record but it was a team which had surrendered individual accomplishments for team goals with a coach who stood behind his principles.
“Don't take for granted the love this life gives you; When you get where you're goin' don't forget to turn back around; HELP THE NEXT ONE IN LINE; Always stay humble and kind.”
Tim McGraw, “Humble and Kind,” Country Music Singer.
The final component which I believe is important to success…both as a leader and a teammate, is “passing it on,” “paying it back,” leaving a legacy. While a task, thought or initiative may have started with you, it doesn’t end there. Each one of you--officer, enlisted, civilian…whether junior or senior in rank makes an impact in some form or fashion. Make no mistake about that. Own it, embrace it, develop it, live it and pass it on. Be passionate, be patient and be persistent. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you have grown, mentored and educated the next generation, no matter what the field of expertise and no matter how trivial it may have seemed at the time. Even today, I see young men and women I have supervised and mentored become the next generation of leaders. Remember, life is about relationships you build, nurture and grow. Former VMI Head football coach, Cal McCombs, quoted a mentor of his,” It’s not about the Xs and the Os, it’s about the Jimmy and the Joes.” Take the time to know those you work for, those you work with and those who work for you. Start your legacy now and pass your knowledge and expertise to the next generation.