Bo Burlingham of Inc Magazine (October 2013) visited West Point, the US Army Military Academy, and made some interesting observations about military training, thatt I never really heard articulated. I have seen a reasonable facsimile of a team environment in the corporate world, but for the most part too many environments, including the church, just do not seem to be able to grasp the following concepts.
I can hear you say, “the military’s a different environment, different mission, different conditions,” Yeah, but. For way too many in the rest of the world, it’s the pursuit of the “buck”, and it’s all about the individual, I have to do anything and everything that is good for me. Frankly I’ve seen too many who didn’t even really understand what is actually good for them.
Burlingham makes this observation: “Every cadet also is extremely busy. Yet these cadets were taking time away from their studies and other duties to help their friends get through the course.” Well yeah, because you need to. There simply cannot be a “weak link” in the unit, whether it’s the class, the squad, boat crew, air crew, on and on. It is the unit that is successful, if it’s not, then no one in the unit is. If anything comes close to that it’s sports teams, but even in that environment, it’s the individual who’s torn between getting the championship ring and the new contract for next year.
I did not go to a military academy, but even in the shortened version of that, in boot camp and “A” school, you certainly get a sense of the four year environment. And I can really relate to Burlingham’s next observation: “,..not only were the cadets more collegial, but they seemed to be happier – much happier- than students at civilian universities…” I’ve done college and I’ve done the military. Oh yes, college can be stressful, but puhlease, getting yanked out of bed at midnight to get screamed at and run around and in kind of physical, I don’t know, abuse. Sorry but most college students I know/known, would be sobbing, quivering masses. In the world’s “it’s all about me environment”, they just can not internalize the concept that “if we’re all getting beat on together, it’s not personal, it’s intended to make us stronger and pull together.” But today you can’t seem to look at most people without them taking it personally. There’s way too many people out there who would do themselves a big favor and listen more and talk a lot less and get over themselves.
Burlingham says: “A cadet’s life is anything but fun. And yet these young people seem to get something out of their lives that is missing from the lives of many of their contemporaries.” Amen, preach it brother. Just to give you some context, I’m not some sort of “I remember the big one…” I only retired 9 years ago. I started when I was 17 years old. I served 29 years and I saw many changes, but for the most part, things were still the same principles and I can very much relate to this article. Things haven’t changed that much in the last nine years and with a real actual shooting war going on for, in or about, 13 years, all the more sense of urgency, mission and team. People could be readily killed and were. No one wants to send anyone into a shooting mission or a mission of any kind of danger without doing everything possible to make sure they come home alive. I’ve never had to deal with it, but I can imagine the sick feeling a senior person must feel when they hear about someone they trained being killed in action or some other operation. I think one of the things that Burlingham sees is the sense that cadets are, to an extent, living on the edge, meeting challenges that the vast majority of their peers wouldn’t and couldn’t begin to step up to, the sense that they are making a real difference, they are serving and also the sense that they will be meeting challenges very soon that could mean lives, including theirs.
One observation he makes that I think is unique and yet if you’re not feeling this, regardless of the environment you’re in, you are not really stepping up, you are frankly coasting. He asks “Does anyone get through West Point without feeling that sense of inadequacy?” The response from the cadets was, “No”. Their isn’t any nonsense about “self-esteem”, hurting someone’s feelings, no one cares, you should feel inadequacy and on a regular basis. How else are you going to push yourself, step-up, achieve more then you ever thought? Get over yourself, if you’re not failing, if you’re not being challenged and losing once in awhile, you are simply not living, you’re existing: “…repeated failure was built into West Point’s culture. Yet that didn’t seem to faze the cadets in the least. They came across as irrepressibly positive and devoid of the alienation that infected other campuses … there was the phenomenon he had observed in the gym: cadets going out of their way to help one another, even as they were competing intensely to outdo one another.” Interesting paradox, I have to win, but I cannot let you fail. And if I win and make you successful, well heck, I’m doubly successful and you are too. You also manage to avoid the inevitable “you got me this time, but now it’s personal and I’m going to do whatever I can to mess you up the next time.” I have seen this toxic, immature environment constantly, and in the end, everyone ends up messing themselves up. Why do we have the world we have today? Because everyone is stomping on everyone to grab everything they can get, only to get subsequently stomped on (and with prejudice), by someone else.
Too bad more people don’t have the following attitude: “‘It’s better to fail here and have other people help you get it right than to fail in Afghanistan, where the consequences could be catastrophic,’ said … cadet, Christer Hosrtman.” Great observation young man.
A man named Jim Collins who, among other things, has written business books, made this observation: “Collins took out a piece of paper and drew a triangle. One point he labeled success, another growth and the other service. Those three corners of the triangle, he sensed, held an answer to the paradox he had observed in the culture of West Point.”
I really don’t see it as a paradox. In military life, in Christian life and yes even in your day to day workaday life. You have to have these elements, you also have to have a sense of urgency, you have to have a sense that this matters and not just in a “just one more transaction, one more customer tedium” but in a way that you are serving a greater cause.
I would also like to pay tribute to so many I have served with that have exemplified these qualities of the military that protects you. My big brother Chief Jerry DeModena, my rebel southern cousin Lt Colonel Roger Niblet. Lt Commander Dave Wajda, Lieutenant Eric Bernstein, really all the men and women I served with in Harbor Defense Command Naval Coastal Warfare. All my brothers four of them and we covered the span of services; Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Marines, my father Air Force, my son Army and my nephew Air Force. Joe and Kathy Mokris both Annapolis graduates and Marine officers. God has blessed me greatly with great military brothers and sisters, and Christian brothers and sisters. But this caveat, those Christian brothers and sisters, in whatever walk of life, need to learn this lifestyle and it was a lifestyle that Jesus and the disciples exemplified. They had constant success because the Holy Spirit used them to turn those they were led to, to lives in Jesus. They knew failure too and and trusted God in the successes and “failures”. They knew growth, growing through those they discipled and through the trials God put them through and they certainly knew service. Not just in terms of providing for bodily needs, but in eternal service, what really matters in Christ.
I know all rah, rah, but this is where it’s at. True faith, true service, true sacrifice, on and on in whatever you do. You may not feel the need to be so “Semper” in your position, but I can tell you that I have been truly blessed by people in what many would see in humble positions. Serving others, serving Christ with a sense of urgency, with a sense of, yes, making myself better, but challenging and helping those around me to be better too. When you have that kind of synergy, the Holy Spirit will use that to do amazing things to benefit you and to bless so many others. Do it, and let’s talk about it on Wednesday 10am corner of W King St and Beaver St, you are welcome to park behind the church and for those who are new I will buy you coffee.