Sunday, June 21, 2015

The $300,000 MAN






I didn’t crash an experimental aircraft. I didn’t have my right arm, both legs, and left eye replaced with bionic implants that gave me the power and strength of a bulldozer, the speed of a mid-sized sedan, and the vision the most sophisticated drones available on the civilian market. I also don’t work as a secret agent, though I would certainly entertain the idea!

In other words, I am not Steve Austin, the “Six Million Dollar Man.”

No, I was made stronger, faster, and braver 10 years ago today for far less—only $300,000.

Let me explain.

On April 9th, 2004,during a firefight in AL Kut, Iraq, I received trauma to the chest from enemy fire. I recovered from the hit and kept fighting. The next morning I had a fairly large bruise on my chest but did not think much of it. I was just happy to be alive.

After I returned home from that deployment, I was getting checked out for problems I was having during physical fitness activities. I just wasn’t the same as I had been. I was getting incredibly tired out by things that used to be easy. I knew something was wrong. The doctor confirmed it. He asked me if I had sustained any trauma to the chest during my deployment. I told him what had happened, and he told me that the mitral valve in my heart had been torn from the impact of the projectile I got hit with.

During the subsequent surgery, my damaged-beyond-repair valve was replaced with a carbon fiber valve that I was told would last 400 years. Three hundred thousand dollars later, I woke up in a different world than when I went under.

I was now the $300,000 Man.

Everyone is tested by life, but only a few extract strength and wisdom from their most trying experiences. “
Bennis, Warren G,Thomas, Robert J. (2002) Crucibles of Leadership. Harvard Business Review, Crucibles of Leadership, Harvard Business Review, September 2002

A crucible is, by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity. After I became the $300,000 man, I was right in the middle of one of the most difficult crucibles I had ever had to deal with—though I didn’t quite know it at the time. From my perspective (see diagram), when individuals are in a crucible, they have three options:


1)    They could spin out of control—what I call the “Death Spiral.” Something bad or challenging happens, and the person in the crucible struggles, crashes, and burns.

2)    They can learn to operate at a new, lower level of performance. There is no death spiral; however, there is also no recovery. When someone chooses this path, they don’t get back to where they were, and they avoid any risks that could result in them getting hurt even worse.

3)    Lastly, they can accept what has happened and leverage the experience for the learning, growth, and developmental opportunity it is. Those who choose this path don’t just recover—they thrive and reach new heights. They come out performing and operating better than they were before the experience. 




Why Me?

As I was recovering and adjusting to my new identity as the $300,000 man, I was following option #1. I was in a death spiral and asking, “Why Me?” Instead of looking for opportunities to grow and improve, I felt sorry for myself. Even after I recovered and got active again, I was not running as a fast as I used to due to the damage done and the new mitral valve—the “aftermarket part.” 

I was also facing the possibility that I would have to be medically retired from the military. The doctors told me I would receive a nice disability payment for being wounded in combat, but I wanted none of that. Instead, I wanted to continue to serve and was not ready to leave the military, much less be considered “disabled”. 

As steadfast as I was at times, I was having a hard time coming to terms with my “new normal”. As I wrote in this post  I felt like I was not good enough anymore. I was ashamed, and I was too scared to let anyone into what I was dealing with—I was decorated for valor and was being told by medical professionals that I would not be able to stay in the Army.
I was a warrior. What do warriors do when they get disabled? When they’re vulnerable? 

They fight.

With the help of family and friends, I started to fight again. I transformed my “Why Me?” to “It Starts with Me!”

In the words of Brené Brown, I found the“courage to be imperfect.” I slowly began to accept my new identity as a wounded warrior, and my attitude started to improve. I realized that the only one who expected me to be my old self was me. No one else did. 


It Starts with Me!

Having the courage to be imperfect enabled me to resume being an endurance athlete and a soldier. I was able to reframe my injury and the “new normal” as an opportunity to grow and develop. I could have chosen to leave the military with a medical discharge and lived off the disability payments, but instead I chose to overcome adversity and continue to serve. I was now following option #3 and realized my full recovery started with me. Having been commissioned as an Army officer in 2003, I have spent the majority of my time as an officer as a wounded warrior. In 2007, I took command of a tank company in Korea. During my second company command, I deployed in 2010 with my soldiers to Afghanistan, where we served as advisors to the Afghan National Police. Deploying back to a combat zone confirmed in my mind that I was back and better than ever. As crazy as it sounds, deploying back into a combat zone helped me feel “whole” again and helped with my mental recovery and fully accepting the “new normal” I still had not fully accepted at that point.

Once I returned, I continued competing in endurance sports. Before I left, I completed the New Orleans Half-Ironman, as well as several other shorter-distance races, and after I returned, I got into obstacle course racing, completing several Spartan races. I also got involved with a great organization—Team, Red, White,and Blue (RWB)—and through my involvement with them was able to help others reintegrate and recover from their own injuries and challenges. 

I have been with Team RWB for over four years now. It is an amazing organization, and I truly believe in its mission to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” 



Last year I got the opportunity to participate in one of the most rewarding events I have been involved with the organization to date. Several Team RWB leaders and teammates were selected to take part in a leader development experience for the top 18 high school quarterbacks in the nation as part of the Nike Elite 11program at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. The experience was designed to take the quarterbacks to the "edge of uncomfortable" so they could grow and develop as a result. The quarterbacks were going to be put through a series of military style missions that would last approximately 7 hours. It was during that time that we were given a chance to share our leadership experiences with them and give them a better understanding of what it meant to be a leader and the responsibility that came with it. I am looking forward to returning to the Elite 11 Camp this summer.




  A true test of our character is how we overcome adversity. As I reflect back on the last 10 years, the takeaway I want to share with readers is simple: Anyone can overcome adversity. 

Life will throw multiple challenges at you. If it hasn’t already, rest assured that it will. It was Ernest Hemingway who wrote that the world breaks everyone. The bright side, though, is that most of us will be stronger at the broken places. Overcoming the adversity in your life and taking the third path when you’re in the crucible will make you stronger, I promise. With the help of family, friends, and community we can learn from and find meaning in adverse circumstances, but no one else can conquer your adversity but you.

Here is to another 390 years. IT Starts with ME!




Thursday, November 27, 2014

All That I am Thankful For...







Thankful for all That Unites Us



As I was rowing this morning in my garage gym looking out at the snow I reflected on all I am thankful for. I am thankful for being alive and for family, friends and community as well as the opportunity to serve in the Army with some great Americans.  My thoughts also wandered to the families of those I have served with that were killed in action serving this great Nation ,and lastly to the organization I am proud to be a part of, Team, Red, White, and, Blue, which keeps the stories and memories of their sacrifices alive so that we may never forget.


Over the past year I have had the opportunity to travel around the country and interact with members of Team RWB. I recently wrote about the “Medici Effect” which is the concept that when people from different backgrounds cross paths in life and have a shared experience, great things can happen. And that has been my experience with Team RWB...community members and Veterans coming together to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

 

  My recent experience in Boston running an obstacle course race is a prime example of this with members from Chapters in Rhode Island, Danbury, Boston, and West Point converging on Beantown for the race. Throughout the race members could have forged on individually but didn't.  Instead, they waited on their fellow Eagles (many of who they had never met before) to conquer the obstacles with their teammates and then move on to the next challenge. The examples I saw on the course really personified the Eagle Ethos of Passion, People, Positivity, Commitment, Camaraderie, and Community. It is great to be part of an organization that lives it every day.



Happy Thanksgiving!!


Friday, November 7, 2014

Coffee Shops, Veterans, and the “Medici Effect”


I have spent a lot of time in coffee shops over the years. One cool thing about coffee shops is that they are the crossroads of society and you can meet people from all walks of life. You could be standing in line or drinking coffee and having a conversation with a banker, stockbroker, college student, etc….  Conversation is good because it ultimately leads to the sharing of ideas, stories, and possibly the forming and building of relationships, which is a good thing, in general.  This is the “Medici Effect.” In his book of the same title,  Frans Johansson writes  “When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.” 


Since coffee shops are a place where people’s lives intersect, they make a great place for Veterans to build relationships with community members. In the work I do for Team Red, White, and Blue (RWB), I often stop by a coffee shop after a workout wearing the RWB Eagle, which happens to be a great conversation starter.  These coffee shop conversations lead to me revealing I am an active duty Soldier and wounded warrior. More importantly, these conversations lead to the sharing of ideas and stories of others I have served with over the years. It is through these types of conversations that community members learn about Veterans and the great things the military has been doing.


Starbucks happens to be one of my favorite coffee shop chains. They have locations in almost every city across the country. During my travels I frequently go grab a coffee after a workout, as I mentioned earlier, and end up conversing with community members sharing stories about others I have served with. They walk away with a better understanding of what Veterans have experienced during their service.  As Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote in their recent Washington Post opinion piecetitled “Want to help veterans? Stop pitying them.”, “A better recognition of the overall veteran experience — the bad, the good and everything in between — is essential to forging a lasting compact between those who have served and the rest of us.” This happens when Veterans’ and community members’ lives intersect. The “Medici Effect” happens in Starbucks and other coffee shops all across the country.

Today, I had the opportunity to meet Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks and Rajiv Chandrasekaran after they spoke at West Point as part of a panel discussion. I look forward to reading their new book,  “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice.”


Interested in connecting with Veterans? Find out more about Team Red, White, and Blue bychecking out our website. Get involved today!





Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Still Ticking After 27 Years of Service


27 years ago I entered the Army on what was supposed to be a 3 year enlistment and I am still serving today. Though there have been ups and downs, I generally wake up every morning FIRED UP to be a member of the Army Team. I decided to celebrate the anniversary of my 27th year of service by working out with cadets and faculty members at West Point. It was a challenging workout and as I reflected back on the past 27 years I realized that as I grew and developed as a leader, so did my love for physical fitness. Through physical fitness individuals learn how to push themselves and overcome challenges. 





After 27 years my body bears the scars of war but I make the most of every morning.

Monday, September 1, 2014

25,000 Mornings: Make the MOST of Every One of Them






In his article "You get 25,000 mornings as an adult. Here are 8 ways to not waste them" James Clear writes that we will wake up for approximately 25,000 mornings as adults  and lists 8 ways to get the most out of the morning.

After reading and reflecting on the article;  Number 8 "Develop a “pre–game routine” to start your day" really connected with me. He writes  "What you do each morning is an indicator of how you approach your entire day. It’s the choices that we repeatedly make that determine the life we live, the health we enjoy, and the work we create.", and asks the reader what they will do with their 25,000 mornings.

I used to take mornings for granted, but morning number 6,140 of my adult life was almost my last. On April 9th 2004 I led my Cavalry Scout Platoon on an attack to seize a bridge in Al Kut, Iraq. I almost did not make it another morning. I was seriously wounded in the fight along with 9 of my soldiers . It took awhile but I had a great recovery due to family and friends and community.

Pretty much every morning since my recovery (the past 3,000 plus mornings) I have embraced life to the fullest to include physical fitness, and with approximately 14, 000 mornings left in my adult life I wake up and CRUSH IT daily.



This morning for example, I was with Team RWB- West Point doing the "Hill of Death" WOD in which we ran up a hill that had numerous functional fitness stations every few hundred yards.


How will you make the MOST of your mornings?  FIRED UP!!!




Friday, August 8, 2014

Purple Heart Day 2014: Wounded not Broken

The Purple Heart is awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces that has been wounded or died as a result of a wound in battle, and yesterday August 7th was  Purple Heart Day. ( Click here for background). For those of you who did not know, Gen. George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit, known today as the Purple Heart on August 7th, 1782.

I am a wounded warrior myself (Click here for story) and similar to my “Alive Day” celebration, I chose to observe the day properly and celebrate life with a challenging workout. Nothing makes me feel more alive than throwing a 70LB slam ball. : )  At 0530 in the morning I was out CRUSHING IT with my teammates from Team Red, White, and Blue, which recognized its wounded members with this Purple Heart Day post on Facebook.



I encourage all wounded Veterans to get active and healthy if they are not already, and to get involved with Team Red, White, and Blue.


You never know the people you will meet, or stories you will hear from the person on your left and right working out with you. 


FIRED UP!!!

Friday, July 11, 2014

"The edge of uncomfortable is where you start to grow"




"The edge of uncomfortable is where you start to grow"

-Trent Dilfer, head quarterback coach for the Nike Elite 11 program

Last weekend I had the opportunity with several of my Team Red, White, and Blue teammates to take part in a leader development experience for the 18 top high school quarterbacks in the nation as part of the Nike Elite 11 program at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR.


The quarterbacks were broken down into 6 teams and we served as small unit advisors, coaching them and giving advice during the days events. My team members were Sam Darnold, Deondre Francois, Ryan Brand, Davis Webb, and Dennis Gile.

All of the Team RWB small unit advisors were combat veterans and experienced leaders. They understood that leaders are developed through hard, challenging experiences, and that leaders have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The experience was designed to take the quarterbacks to  the "edge of uncomfortable" so they could grow and develop as a result of it. It was planned as a series of military style missions that would last approximately 7 hours. The missions included an unknown distance ruck march and flag run, building a bunker, a waterborne mission with a raft with no paddles, and finally the "21 Guns" WOD.



There was also time set aside for us to share our leadership stories with our groups. As I thought about what stories to share with theses young leaders who are the future of America, I reflected back to my combat experiences thinking about the similarities to the role of a frontline leader in combat and the role of the quarterback. Frontline leaders lead by example in complex, dynamic, and dangerous situations. Football is not as hazardous, but quarterbacks lead their teams in fluid and dynamic conditions during the game. As I shared my experiences with them I pointed out the similarities to help make the connection between this experience and what they do on the football field.

The stories I shared had these themes weaved into them:

Trust: Cohesive teams have a foundation of trust. I told them they had to build trust  amongst their respective teams and show them they care care and are competent.

Developing Future Leaders: I explained third generation leadership to them which is  the concept that the investment they make in the younger players will influence successive generations of players on the team.

Energy: Leaders are a major source  of energy in any organization. They are expected to fuel the fire that inspires others to take action

Overcoming Adversity:
I had the chance to review all the bios of my team and everyone of them had faced adverse conditions, some more adverse than others. That was one of several things we all had in common. One of my favorite sayings is "CRUSH IT" , which is for overcoming and crushing adversity.  I told them the true test of their character was how they lead when confronted by adversity.  I shared how I had faced adversity in combat and as a wounded warrior (Read about Vulnerability& Courage), and how I overcame it.

Prior to the execution of "21 Guns" we conducted a peer evaluation. The team rated each other from worst to best. One of my quarterbacks was ranked last by a majority of the team. Part of the peer evaluation process was each person who ranked him last had to come up and "own" their comments and tell the player why they ranked him last. I facilitated this session to make sure the feedback was professional. This  was uncomfortable to all parties, but taught the value of brutally honest feedback designed to give the recipient takeaways on how they could learn and improve. That is exactly what happened after the peer evaluation session was over and where vulnerability and courage came into play.

 Deondre Francois was the recipient of the feedback and this was a crucible experience for him (More on crucibles here). His peers had told him that they thought he was holding back, not giving 100 %. It took courage for him to acknowledge the feedback and then overcome it. The peer evaluation session lit a fire in him. He confronted the adverse feedback by absolutely CRUSHING the 21 Guns WOD which was as many rounds as a possible (AMRAP) in the time period specified. He and his partner completed more than any other team (Read the story here).



With my team after the bunker mission. L to R Davis Webb (Texas Tech), QB Coach Dennis Gile, Ryan Brand, Sam Darnold, and Deondre Francois.



Overall it was an incredible experience. Most importantly the quarterbacks learned that Leadership Counts!