#140 Thanks and I'm Sorry...

A while back, a friend of mine told me that one day I would need to write a thank you note to the Army. To express my gratitude to the institution and everything that it has provided me over the years. To tell it how much it has means to me to serve in it. To say thank you for allowing me an extremely productive and powerful and successful career. To recognize the impact that it has had on my life. To give the Army its' proper due. To say "Thank you". And while I'm at it, to offer it an apology. I have been a harsh critic of the institution at times, particularly regarding leader development. This week another friend showed me how wrong I have been.

So tonight with a ton of humility I want to thank the Unites States Army for everything it has provided to me over the last 21 plus years. Far beyond a job, the Army has been my profession. Far beyond a paycheck, it has become part of my life. Like with my child or my wife, I cannot remember a time when the Army wasn't part of my everyday thinking, my behavior, my pattern of being. I carry it with me everywhere I go. I wear my service and my dedication to the Army like an old comfortable coat. It is always there.

I joined the Army when I was 21 years old. I turned 22 during Basic Training. At the time I enlisted I was broke, bordering on homeless, and drifting from one job to another with no real goal in mind. I had tried college for a year after High School, but wasn't prepared for all the freedom and lack of structure that college life affords. I couldn't handle it and quit. I walked into a recruiting station one day and saw a way to at least stay fed, housed and protected for a period of time while I sorted out what I wanted to do with my life. That was the first time the Army came to be my provider. I have never said thank you for that opportunity.

I saw in my first unit that the Army was filled with all kinds of different people, from all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences. We were all brand new Privates and we learned together to be tough, to endure, the value of strength and determination. In the rough, course language and ways of young men, we learned to become men. I was the smart kid, there were others who were tougher. We learned to value what each of us could bring to the table. There were guys who would come to my room on Sunday morning, hung over, or beat up and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and we would talk. They wanted to have my brains, and I wanted to be unafraid and as tough as they were. The relationship worked out well for both sides. The Army taught me the value of diversity. It takes each of us to contribute everything we have, with all of our vast experiences to accomplish a mission that is bigger than each of us alone. I do not live in an insular world. I live in a world filled with every race, creed, color, gender, background you can imagine. The Army gave me that opportunity and I am grateful to it for having done so.

I have been mentored over the years by some great people who saw in me more than I could see in myself. JC and CW who gave me opportunities that have paid off ever since. I could not have known what graduating Ranger school, or being inducted into the Audie Murphy Club, or being the NCO of the Year would mean to me back then, but I do now. That was the beginning of a magical and powerful period. It would provide the strength I would need down the road. JB taught me how to navigate the Army systems. SG taught me that there were no excuses allowed. There are only expectations of excellence. MO taught me that no matter how high you might get in the organization, there is always time to recognize the people a lot further down on the ladder. BS showed me what common sense and true friendship look like. When everything went sideways for me, it was the ideas, thoughts, discussions, and examples of these people who have shaped my service the most. The Army brought them into my life. I am so very grateful that it did. The Army has brought hundreds more as well. Soldiers I have served with, Soldiers I have trained, Soldiers who have pushed me to be better than I thought I could be. KM and CR have come to my life because of the Army. To them - and to the Army - I owe a special debt of thanks.

The Army has provided for my family very well. It has given me security and value and allowed me to build my family in a safe and secure home and community. I have not ever wondered if I would lose my job, or end up in dire financial straights or whether I could afford decent health care for my family. I have been blessed by the Army and the taxpayer for a solid middle class standard of living. I am grateful for that. As we stare at high unemployment rates and job losses across all sectors, there is a security that I enjoy that many others do not. I am thankful for that. There are thousands of people across the country tonight who do not know how they will provide for their loved ones tomorrow or next month. I, thankfully, do not have that worry. And in those times when the Army did ask more of me than normal, it also provided generously for anything it extracted in return. The Army has always been a more than fair partner and I am grateful for that.

The Army brought me my family. I was raised in New England and only by chance ended up in the South. I was going to leave the Army before I met the woman who has been my wife for the last 16 years. We were brought together by other Army friends from another magical period. I will always be grateful for that. She and I have been through a lot together, but through it all, the Army has always been there. It is as much a part of her life - whether she wants it to be or not - as it is mine.

The Army has tested me. In every way possible. Ethically, physically, emotionally and intellectually. The Army has provided me the opportunity to grow and mature and strive and overcome and be pushed to the limits and I am grateful for each of those times. Even the dark period of Black Hearts has turned out to be a blessing. As huge a tragedy, and as evil and difficult as that time was, it has provided me the opportunity to take this journey,one that far too few people ever do. I am a better man today because of it. Of that, there is no doubt.

And so, I want to thank the Army. To thank it with all of my being for taking such good care of me over the years. The man I am, the man that I want to become and the man I never want to return to again, have all been shown to me because of my time in the Army. I will forever remain grateful to and humbled by the many blessings she has provided me. A huge institution made up of millions of people, and there is still the powerful force to affect one man.

That sense of gratitude also forces me to offer an apology to the Army. I spent much of my early time here on these pages ridiculing and reviling and complaining about and railing against the very institution that has taken such good care of me. I have acted like a spoiled and petulant child at times. And like a child, I often didn't know all the facts and cast judgement well before I should have. That came home to me this past week when a mentor of mine sent me 3 short paragraphs and told me that maybe the institution isn't as far off base as I keep saying it is. Maybe, just maybe, it's not the Army that is getting it all wrong, maybe it's just a small bunch of people inside the organization who won't embrace change and development and the reality of 21st century warfare and leadership. His comments came out of post #139 where my contention was that the system we have in place for leader development isn't working and should be refocused solely on developing one individual. He sent me the following passages:

"Professionally competent leaders strive to develop, maintain, and use the full range of human potential in their organizations. This potential is a critical factor in ensuring the Army, as a whole, is performing at peak capacity. The Army must never underestimate the talents of subordinates, nor miscalculate how oversight of this potential can thwart productivity within organizations."

"The obligation to train and develop junior leaders includes training subordinates on the full spectrum of Joint Operations, and then presenting them the occasions in both Institutional schools and Operational assignments, to obtain the highest levels of personal achievement possible in their profession. It is imperative to continually enhance their potential and develop relevant skill-sets that support the unit's mission. In doing so, the institution will essentially promote the growth and development of a future generation of talented leaders."

"Structured professional growth from institutional schools augmented with leadership training conducted at the organizational level will continue the individuals growth.  Effective counseling, hands-on coaching and committed mentorship will ground this developmental process in the fundamentals of leadership to develop mental agility, and flexibility, while still insisting on a high standard of performance at all times, regardless of the circumstances."

Apparently, the Army recognized awhile ago what it needed to do. I am the guy who didn't get the memo. I should have been paying closer attention to what the system was getting right, rather than just spouting off about what I thought it was getting wrong each week. So for being ungrateful and for being short-sighted, I want to offer my most sincere apology. I am sorry. The institution did not deserve my callousness and my sarcasm and my holier-than-thou attitude. The only one jacked-up around here is me. A powerful lesson learned to be sure. The institution seems to know exactly what it needs. Maybe I might want to shut up and listen.

Over the past 21 years, the Army has treated me well, encouraged me to grow, and supported me when I needed it. Tonight I am so very thankful for all of that. I am also grateful that it is forgiving enough to look past my many shortcomings and continues to offer me opportunities to learn and develop. My journey to this point would not have been possible without the support of the Army. My future successes, failures and lessons learned will also be made available to me because of it. The past, the present and the future of me is intimately connected to the United States Army. She is an incredible partner to walk with. I am grateful to call her my friend.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.


  1. Fen- The Army culture certainly lends itself to each of us thinking we can do it better than "the last guy" and instead of using what is going well, we focus our efforts on what is "jacked up" and needs to be fixed and that is true on a unit or institutional level. If we were to take the amount of effort to follow the prescribed plan as we do complaining about and fixing it, we would probably be 150% more productive! Your transparency and openness are honorable :) Thanks.

  2. The Army is a wonderful and huge organization ...warts and all.....constructive criticism focused on improving the organization is healthy and required as professions are "self policing".....if the collective "we" don't police it won't get done....

    Fen, I commend and salute you for doing your part!