Remembering a Ranger – a message of wisdom and service – thank you, Colonel Kail, RLTW

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photoIn January, my son sought advice about Ranger School from a man he trusted who had been there, done that way back in 1998. (Massive understatement)*

At the time, Nathan had no idea how treasured this email would become only six months later.

On July 24, 2013, Colonel Eric G. Kail passed from this life into eternity with Jesus after a valiant fight with transitional cell carcinoma. Amidst tears of sadness, Nate, the Hubs and I were reminiscing about Eric’s impact on our lives. During that phone conversation, our son casually mentioned this email and began to read it to us.

With my (now) Ranger’s permission, today I share this email as a sort of eulogium to a great man. Even if you’re not in Ranger School, my hunch is you will appreciate the insightful words written by a man of great honor, Christian faith and wisdom. Eric would get a kick out of knowing he was featured again in my blog! He was always such an encourager.

Here’s the email…

Nate,

Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished so far, and for snagging a Ranger School slot. Thanks for asking, here’s my two cents.

1. Ranger school is not fair, nor are the people who run it. I don’t mean that negatively, but rather just as a fact. I saw far better soldiers than me not make it through the first week due to injury and some were even picked on and singled out until they quit.

2. Try to learn something about yourself everyday and acknowledge the work of your peers. No one likes an overt cheerleader who comes across as trying to get the squad to like them. However, quiet and man-friendly encouragement goes along way.

3. Consistency is key, especially when you are member of squad and not the patrol leader. Spotlighting is only working hard when you are in charge, and it is an ugly thing.

4. Remember the school is designed to get you to your worst point, and then deal with it. So, things like packing list changes and last-minute fragos are by design and not something you should ever let get the better of you.

5. You’ll have moments and days when staying at Ranger School is the last thing you want to do. Two things help. First, always find something (never someone else) to laugh about. Second, you’ll spend your entire army career helping soldiers over come hardship. So, learning how to pull yourself out of despair is a good skill to acquire.

6. Never feel sorry for yourself, although you may want to daily.
Keeping a journal of just a few comments or bullets each day will help you reflect on this when you are back in the real world.933882_621564467863032_1204880649_n

7. Enjoy becoming a dangerous and competent man, but not pridefully. Our society is too quick to put sweater vests and choir robes on Christian men and to domesticate them into mediocrity. We need strong warriors who understand unconditional love and possess the will to manage violence in our defense.

8. Most, if not all of the learning you will accomplish is about yourself and your failures while in Ranger School. You’ll learn some cool stuff, but more than anything you’ll learn the value of never quitting. I had to remain in the elevated push-up position for two hours one evening because some instructor wanted to get an LT to quit. Two hours seemed like an eternity then, but merely a blink of an eye now. Funny thing, I ran into that instructor years later and we had a good conversation on my terms. He was a small, angry man inside and out.

9. On your worst days, remember that your future soldiers and NCOs are counting on you to finish what you completed. Don’t worry if you get injured, that happens to the best of them. But when you show up with your tab, your soldiers and NCOs will know that at least you finish what you start.

10. Soldiers only want to know one thing about you. Will you take care of them or drive them like a rental car. Completing ranger school tells them up front that at least you know what it feels like to be driven like a rental car and are less likely to do it to them.

Hope this helps. I’m very proud of you Nate.

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img_2250* By the way, Colonel Eric Kail was Ranger certified in 1988. He also did some other awesome things like marry a wonderful woman, have two kids and other important things like get a Ph.D. and publish a series on leadership in the Harvard Business Review. Eric served for over 25 years as an Army Field Artillery Officer in both conventional and special operations units. He has several combat deployments, including Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. Among Eric’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for Valor. While our family knew Eric as a close personal friend, Eric was most recently the course director for military leadership at West Point.

On behalf of my entire family, Eric, you will be missed but we mourn not as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). See you soon, Colonel Kail.

Other blog posts you might want to check out:

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Seeing Nate for the first time after completing Ranger School

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No sooner had we arrived at our hotel near Fort Benning, when Nate called to check on our travel schedule. We had just put our bags in the room and the Hubs and I begged and pleaded to see him immediately!

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After all we had been through – the driving, the praying, the waiting, the stress, the letters, the gum, the recycling, followed by the driving, the praying, the feeding, the laundry, the eight-hour pass, the stress, the care package, the recycling (twice), etc., we deserved to see this guy, don’t you agree?

Twenty minutes later, we were hugging our Soldier. Considering everything he had been through during Ranger School, our boy looked great. We learned later that the men are well fed and hydrated before we get to see them. My mama’s heart quaked at the thought of seeing him emaciated and zombie-like. Instead, we were able to enjoy conversation and see that his spirit was still very much intact after the Ranger experience. His waist looked smaller but he didn’t have a sunken chest or hollow eyes which was something I really dreaded.

Perhaps the only glimpse I had of him not being in complete reality was when I asked him to take this picture. Had my Soldier been his usual self, he might not have stood in front of the car and posed for a few shots with this sign in the background.2013-07-11 16.20.58

Yes it’s super corny and if the tables were turned, it would have probably annoyed me when I was his age but Nate indulged my parental pride.

Careful to not push it too much, I did, however ask permission before I told our server at the restaurant that he was dealing with a Ranger. When Nate said, “NO!” I refrained and just prayed for an opportunity to casually mention the fact.

Turns out, I didn’t have to force it because soon enough, we learned that our server was a former Ranger who had been injured while serving his country. There are many broad-shouldered military types in the Fort Benning/Columbus, Georgia area.

Nate’s brothers and a family friend were on their way to celebrate this milestone. In my next post, I’ll share some reflections on that special time.

RLTW!

Btw, if you want to read an actual Ranger’s account about the experience, click here!

Blustery heart

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photoA cold morning finds
a mama worried –
about a Soldier,
a ministry-minded middle
and an orange hair, freckle face olive shoot.
Tears flow.
They’re not in trouble or doing anything wrong (or at least not that I, I mean she know/s of!).

Two hours later
she reads Scripture for a weekly Bible study
Gently, unexpectedly
God tucks comfort and assurance into her heart.

“It is good for a man to bear the yoke

while he is young.”

Lamentations, of course, this totally makes sense
This mama can be
a big time lamenter

And just like that
Worries find solace and melt away.

On this January day
She breathes.

Army strong – day one post surgery

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img_20111007_125642We’re sitting in a darkened room at Keller Army Hospital on a crisp autumn day at West Point.

Though my family often chides me for asking a lot of questions, today I think Nate at least would agree, that trait does have its merits.

I had myriad questions of the surgeon but didn’t barrage him. A mama wants to effectively advocate for her son.

If you’ve ever been to the doctor or had surgery, you understand how important it can be to have another voice speaking on your behalf.

In the short time he has been a patient at the hospital, I have run interference for my OS. When Nate was thirsty, I requested water, when he drank Sprite, I asked if he could have more.

Watching Rick Springfield in the waiting room. Pretty sure he's had a little surgery himself!
Watching Rick Springfield in the waiting room. Pretty sure he’s had a little surgery himself!

The medical staff have many patients, Aaron and I have one. It’s not being a diva or a prima donna, I’m not a Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, just a mama, if I can do something quicker or easier, than I want to assist.

img_20111007_172711When Nate’s IV monitor was sounding “occlusion,” I fetched someone to investigate. When he thought he might throw up, I inquired of a barfing receptacle. I’m sure Nate would have managed but not very comfortably because he’s too weak to do much.

Aaron has faithfully stayed by Nate’s side even though there’s really nothing for him to do here. I am proud of my boy for his sacrifice and love.

Here’s an example of how Aaron and I have been a good team.

A short while ago, a male nurse came to help Nate with a basic biological function. Nate did not want my intervention (totally understood that!) so Aaron and I waited in the hallway.

Apple picking with my boy

Apple picking with my boy

The nurse gave Nate his privacy once he had transferred him to the toilet. He left the room and told Nate he would get him back to the bed. Nate used the restroom and Aaron and I stepped back in the room. Nate began to wobble and he looked white as a ghost. I yelled for Aaron’s help in case Nate fainted as I retrieved the nurse. Aaron stood by his brother’s side until the staff got him safely back to bed.

Now Nate is fast asleep, problem avoided, thank the Lord.

Seriously!

Thanks for your prayers, concern and support, it means so much to us. Army Strong!

Do you remember Sunday?

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On a peaceful Sunday night, quietude filled the home and this mama lounged in her pajamas with the Hubs and her mom. The middle OS Aaron and orange haired, freckle face Isaac were asleep; the kitchen was clean, the dehydrator was going strong as usual.

We were watching a television show I refuse to mention for fear that you would think less of me (!) and suddenly there was a major news announcement. I wondered if there was a severe weather warning. A round of deadly tornadoes has swept our state but the interruption wasn’t from our local tv affiliate, it was from the national news network. The President was going to address the country imminently. What was so important that he had to talk to us so close to most people’s bedtime? Why couldn’t it have waited until the morning? Oh Jesus, what are we going to learn?

The three of us remained glued to the flat screen. As we waited, I googled, hoping to get advanced information that would either confirm or deny my worst thoughts. That was to no avail. Were we announcing another war? Did someone super duper important in the administration die? Was there another terrorist attack?

My spirit felt trapped and my feet unsteady. I wondered about the rest of my family. Would I ever see them again? What about my boy? My Soldier? Surely this news was going to effect him! Something was going to change and there was nothing I could do about it.

Then President Obama appeared on our tv screen. He approached the microphone and gave us the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

Although I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next in our country, I knew what we could expect. The phone rang.

It was our boy.”Did you hear the news?” Nate inquired. “Everyone’s going crazy over here, celebrating. We’re pretty pumped.” What else should you expect at West Point? Of course they were ecstatic and rightly so! These cadets are willing to sacrifice their lives for our country and safety, they should rejoice! Hearing Nate’s voice reassured me.

Of all the places to be on this Sunday night, Nate was at a place of historic significance, an institution (albeit imperfect) but nonetheless a place where honor, duty and country mean something.Lord willing, one day my OS will be able to tell his children and his grandchildren about this moment.

He will never forget the time when he and his fellow cadets rejoiced over the news that the sickening mastermind of terrorist attacks on US soil was eliminated from existence. While I sat in my cotton pajamas with my family, my precious child Nate was amidst people willing to die to defend  our way of life.

Among the most epic of all places to be when this man was killed would be at a military academy. Osama bin Laden was found just yards away from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point.

In only one year, Nate will be graduating from West Point and most likely going to a place of international conflict. I’m not ready to go there yet emotionally and he’s not ready to go there geographically but we’ll need to gear up fairly soon. The Lord has not prepared me for this yet, I’m taking it day by day, not trying to borrow trouble.

I’m not naive enough to think that all of our world’s problems ended on Sunday when that man was felled but y’all, I’m glad, really glad he’s gone. 

For my next post, I’m going to share a story I wrote nine years ago about something Isaac asked me after September 11th.

Chuck Norris is in da house!

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So basically it was just your typical day at West Point. You know, cadets in ACUs or as-for-class uniforms, cadets correctly addressing each other, cadets jogging by one another or concocting some buffoonery to torment on a fellow cadet. (Oh, how I wish I could blog about that but I can’t because a certain cadet would disown me!)


However, there really isn’t anything typical about West Point. Many notable people stroll this stately place. Geraldo Rivera, Miss USA and the President of El Salvador (prior to the communist takeover of that beautiful country) have been to WP. The Prince of Orange was at USMA this fall and I’m not ashamed to say this, I had no idea anyone could be the prince of a fruit! Actually it’s the Netherlands – DUH!


Recently, Trace Adkins gave a no-holds-barred concert which was resoundingly NOT politically-correct. Yeah, West Point has brought some heavy hitters on post.

But none, and I mean, NONE as cool and awesome and wonderful and every other adjective imaginable ever known to humankind as the man/myth/hero who came by on Tuesday.

The day before Veteran’s Day, West Point was ridiculously exciting because…drum roll, please…

Chuck Norris paid a visit to WP!

My son was unable to meet him personally, shucks, but Chuck Norris was announced in the Mess Hall as my OS was running to class from the auditorium. I guess that’s a good thing because Nate was worried about getting a roundhouse kick from him! HA! And although Nate didn’t meet Chuck, one of his buddies got a high-five from him and another had a photo op with the guy! What luck!


Chuck Norris is the man. He respects and supports the military.

He speaks his mind but with tact and passion. Every time I have seen the guy on tv, he sounds genuine and humble despite all the adulation. I understand that Chuck stayed well past his initial commitment and signed books for well over three hours. Solid.
Today ESPN is reporting from West Point and I am thrilled that the Army is getting some good press.
These last couple of days have been so sad and concerning…

In honor of Chuck’s visit to West Point, here are some Chuck Norris jokes for your reading pleasure…


If you spell Chuck Norris in Scrabble, you win. Forever.

Chuck Norris can slam revolving doors.

The chief export of Chuck Norris is pain.

Stinky Boy

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It is safe to go outside and bre- athe. Wher- ever you live in the con-tiguous United States, I imagine you have noticed how suddenly the air quality has improved. I know why, my friends. I know why.


My oldest OS took a shower. That putrid smell you have been inhaling is gone! After three days of extensive field training at Camp Buckner, my odious oliveshoot received a much-needed and merited blessed encounter with hot water, soap and shampoo. All is well! The fog has been lifted!

If Nate smelled anything like he did when we picked him up for Christmas break, that child certainly was ripe without a shower for three days. During Christmas break, Nate’s flight had been delayed and he came home a day late. He had to return to West Point and since it is fairly shut down during Christmas, he returned to WP unable to wash up. When we picked him up, I felt like I was hugging Pigpen…remember stinky Pigpen from the Snoopy cartoons? My boy was a handsome yet acrid mix of perspiration, bad cologne and an onion-like smell, ew.

This time at Camp Buckner, affectionately known as Camp Fun-Fun, my Soldier has not enjoyed slumber on a soft cot with a Green Girl each night. To the contrary. This week Nate had his first experience sleeping on a rock. I never thought about having a child who has slept (should I say, passed out!) on a rock. Hmmmm… He pulled security for two nights and maybe got only six hours of sleep in two days. He chomped on David’s Sunflower Seeds (it’s better than chew!) and kept vigil all night taking only small naps while his buddy kept watch. I have seen my OS grumpy from sleep deprivation so I pity anyone who had to endure his wrath. On the other hand, that might be something special Nate just saves for his mama… 😉

At one point, covered in muck and sweat, his Company did a six mile ruck (hike/march) up a mountain. Nate likened it to climbing up a very steep gravel road. Then his foot began to ache and he feared that somehow it was broken. He hobbled 15 minutes on his lame foot in order to get transported for medical attention. A smelly, overtired 19 year old with sharp foot pains must have been quite a sight. My own experience with a broken foot left me rejoicing when he told us that he just had tendonitis and merely needs to tape his foot and take some anti-inflammatory medicine.

I don’t know what to think when my son relays this information. Am I worried? Yes. Am I proud? Absolutely. Am I scared? Sometimes. I love hearing his stories and at once find it all terribly exciting tinged with some maternal anxiety, after all this is MY boy.


Before I became the mama of a Soldier, I was immune and ignorant to the sacrifice of our service people. The scales from my eyes have been lifted, as the Bible says, because I am learning firsthand all that we require and expect from our military. And how many of us don’t truly appreciate all that’s done for freedom.

They don’t get to sleep on comfy beds every night or enjoy time with their family when they are out on a mission. Instead they protect us.

I think of my OS with leaves stuffed all over his helmet, camo paint covering his face and ears, exhausted and reeking to high heavens and I experience a mixture of humility and gratitude. Whoa. There are so many servicemen and women out on the real battlefield doing the same, risking their lives for you and me and countless others. I have a cousin who is an Army Chaplain serving overseas, what a brave and selfless man!

Soldiers gobbling up those MREs, (meal, ready to eat) hobbling around on a wobbly leg, finding a grit within themselves most of us can’t imagine and we take it for granted.

So today as you enjoy the fresh summer air or as you are soaking in a tub or relishing the hot water flowing out of your shower, take a moment to lift up those in the military who didn’t have that luxury. Pray for them, their families, thank them in some way.
We can all breathe a lot easier because of our service people even if they haven’t bathed in days…