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NEWS | Oct. 17, 2012

Inspiration through perseverance

By Lt. Col. Stewart Newton 16th Airlift Squadron commander

It's October and my Physical Fitness Test is at hand. I used to be in pretty good shape and could max every event, but alas, those were the glory days.

I've been pretty fortunate and have always been able to pass fairly easily, but my internal struggle has always been, "If I'm not going to max it, how much effort do I really need to give?"

After my PFTs, I used to throw a pity party over my aches and pains. No more.

Despite all the "I"s and "me's," this article isn't about me. It's about an officer who taught me one of the most important leadership lessons I've ever learned and gave me an entirely new perspective not only on PFTs, but also on life.

Almost five years ago, I learned that I had been selected to attend the Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico, Va. Of course, I immediately did what any of us would do when you find out you are going to work with the Marines - I headed to the fitness center. In fact, I spent the next several months there, working myself as hard as ever.

Unfortunately, my body wasn't what it once was and I developed a painful condition called achilles tendonitis. Every step felt like I was being hit in the back of the heel with a hammer. The injury eventually got better thanks to years of treatment, including wearing orthotics and soaking my foot in ice.

The Marine Command and Staff College was made up of approximately 200 students. About 100 were Marines, with the other students from the other services, the civil service, international and interagency organizations. It was not a big school and you were soon able to recognize most of the faces.

About two weeks into it we all had to take the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test. The Marines were in tremendous shape and several maxed the test or came close. However, the most impressive effort didn't come from one of the Marines, rather it was an Army major.

He didn't do the most pull-ups or sit-ups and he wasn't the fastest. In fact, he finished behind many of the others. Yet, the most remarkable thing about this officer was the fact that he was doing it on a prosthetic leg.

You see, an Improvised Explosive Device had injured him and most students didn't even know he had been injured; much less that he had a prosthetic leg. Truthfully, I suspect that's the way he wanted it.

The major didn't do the test because he wanted to impress anyone. He did it because he is a man of character and the last thing he wanted was special treatment. The major was truly inspirational. Knowing the temperament of this major, he would be embarrassed knowing that others thought so highly of him.

Near the end of the year, the school sponsored a 9.2-mile "fun run" through the hills on base. Even though I was still in a lot of pain from my injury, I'm glad I chose to run it. Now, I don't mean that you should exercise when you're physically injured, but sometimes you need to reach deep inside and not let an inconvenience get in the way of mission or impede your physical fitness training.

For our entire year at school, the Army major participated in every physical fitness event. At the end of the "fun run", as my foot sank into ice and Epsom salts, and I sat there feeling sorry for myself, I found myself reflecting on how inspiring the major was. What a leader! Imagine how moving his story is to his soldiers. They would follow him anywhere ... and I would too! There had never been any doubt in the major's mind whether or not he was going to participate in the optional "fun run." He wasn't looking for an excuse ... he just took care of the mission.

Throughout each of our lives, there are times when we face barriers to our progress. Sometimes those barriers may seem insurmountable. But until you try, you'll never know if you can succeed. Sometimes the price can be a bit painful, but in the end there are fewer rewards more satisfying than knowing you've done your best and accomplished the mission. I don't know if the major had any idea just how inspiring he was to the other students and to myself.

Many thanks, major!