From a West Point grad – written with love and in honor of Colonel Eric Kail

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I met COL Kail while I was just in middle school at Apex Baptist. At that time I had no desire to join the military, wear a uniform or take orders. I just wanted to be a normal guy with freedom and a regular college experience.

You know that saying that says the easiest way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans?

Well I guess God was laughing when I told Him that because I eventually ended up becoming a cadet at West Point. In a strange set of circumstances, the Kail’s had been sent to Korea last moment only to come back to West Point during my time as a cadet.

162938_10150100327385379_7643059_nAt that time I knew he was a good man, but I didn’t know him. As a cadet I went over to the Kail’s house for a little R&R and was able to get to know the family better. What I found was that weren’t just nice, fun people.

They were (and still are) amazing people.

COL Kail especially impressed me because I saw how he interacted with others professionally around campus. I still remember talking about our leadership class with other cadets and they said, “My instructor’s amazing-COL Kail is the man!”

540225_10151141079026038_1658347826_nThey didn’t just think he was cool however.

It was evident that they had a deep respect for him.

One of my friends was amazed that COL Kail already knew the names of his students before they came in. He had memorized them before they ever stepped into the door. That kind of attention paired with his confidence, charisma and humility made cadets (myself included) opened us up to share about ourselves and to learn from his experience and example.

Although COL Kail never formally mentored me, I count him as one of my mentors. His example has inspired me to be a better Army officer, and more importantly a better man and follower of Jesus. Ever since we all found out COL Kail had cancer it always seemed like he and Mrs. Kail were the ones comforting everyone else.

IMG_3623I have been inspired by their abiding trust in the Lord and their belief that God works everything, even things like cancer out for His good and His glory.

That kind of example has been powerful for me to see and I am not the only one.

As I continue my Army career I pray that I may love my future soldiers like I could tell COL Kail loved his.

I pray that I may have faith like him and I pray that I may be a mighty rock for my family one day as he has been for his own family.

I am proud that COL Kail is my friend. And no matter what happens in my own life, I hope that I may be able to set an example as COL Kail has for his family and for everyone around him.To the Kail family, may God bless you and give you peace. You are an inspiration to us all.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Respectfully yours,

Nathan Winter-Hartley
USMA ’12

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$40 or $60? We have our answer and it’s good

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We got the news!

$40 ATM withdrawal!2013-07-07 14.48.02

It is a proud and significant moment in our Soldier’s life. He did all the work, we have merely been behind the scenes cheering him on but I’m telling you, it does feel like we ALL accomplished this tab. 

Nate began this journey in March with the hopes of being done by May. That’s not how it went down. He got recycled in Darby for five weeks, while there met a rat, passed the mountain phase but then he recycled swamps. He will graduate this Friday among his buddies, graduating class 7-13. It will be surreal. Nate will introduce us to the guys he has come to love and admire. I can’t wait!

Good thing we don't have smell-a-vision on this blog. My boy hadn't showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

Good thing we don’t have smell-a-vision on this blog. My boy hadn’t showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

Over 140 days of arduous training is complete and now the stories begin.

Thanks be to God for the good things He has done! My Soldier heeded the word’s on his cap and now we will learn about the cast of char- acters that made his Ranger School time unique, hilarious and irritating as heck. They will never forget this time together. What a feeling that must be.

As for me, I shall never be able to walk by a Soldier in uniform with a Ranger tab and not stop and say something. Especially this Ranger, Colonel Eric Kail. I’ll probably also burst into tears. Oh to put my arms around my boy in a few days, to see that tab on his sleeve, what a moment that will be.

Our hearts are with all the guys and families who have endeavored on this journey. Bless you all! RLTW!

Why God gave me these kids

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One of the sweetest pictures in my collection.

One of the sweetest pictures in my collection.

“Oh, God, why did you give me these children???”

I have said these words

More than once

There have been times when I have exclaimed this in a most screaming doleful and lamenting tone.

“OH GOD, WHY did you give me THESE children???

Those moments when mothering is troubling and my spirit is weary. When Nate screamed bloody murder in the bathtub for no reason at all or when Aaron threw handfuls of dirt on the carpet after repeatedly telling him to leave the dirt in the planter. When Ike flew into an angry tirade and it felt like body parts were exploding on the walls. And those are just a few of the stories I could share.

I suppose my OS have their own share of meltdown moments from me as well but we’re not going to talk about that. They can get their own blog and share those stories one day!

But in much larger measure, I have inquired of the Lord,family5

oh God, why did you give ME these children?”

And I can’t say I have totally figured this out but I do see a theme and hear an answer when I enter the holy places of the Lord.

“They brought you closer to Me.” This is the refrain which resonates the most true.

With each successive olive shoot, my need for Jesus became clear. Here’s what I mean.

Nate

Nate

Nate taught me celebration. He was the toe-headed boy who began walking at eight months and wrote the words “hallelujah” in a prayer journal in elementary school. He is my adventurous, always-looking-for-a-challenge child currently plodding away at Ranger School.

Aaron danger boyMy middle Aaron has been used by the Lord to instruct me on the value of submission. As a toddler, it was apparent we were well on our way to raising an absolutely adorable jerk. We had to implement structure and discipline into our home. When he bit into the face of the daycare director’s granddaughter like she was a hamburger at Bull City Burger, we knew something had to give.

wh2202And Ike, oh, my soul, my adorable, orange hair, freckle face OS, he is God’s lesson in absolute dependence on the Lord. The boy who nursed just on one side, pushed his food away as a toddler as if he had been served a bowl of salty mush, Ike has rocked my world in ways I never dreamed. He is ornery and tender-hearted, stubborn as a zit on a middle-age woman and contrite in spirit to the point where it brings me to tears.

Without each of my children, I’m not sure I would know Jesus. Thankfully I’ll never know! God placed each one of my olive shoots in my life to give me life eternally! The Hubs and I couldn’t do this family thing on our own with any measure of success without Him.ikebball2

What about you? Have you ever wondered the same thing about your children? Why did God give you your babies? I’d love to hear!

Love and letters, part one

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photo copy 5The response to writing my Soldier has been incredible.

Most of us do not understand how wonderful it is for a military person to hear from loved ones and friends.

The longer I am a mama of a Soldier, the more it sinks in.

For my son, he has loved every single message.

Here’s why. Imagine marching 800m through the swamps, then doing a 9k patrol base at night followed by a 17k back. Your letters matter to these weary men.

Picture getting 30 seconds to inhale an MRE (meals ready to eat) somewhere in the mountains but then getting a funny card from a friend delivered to you sometime during training. It can kind of make you feel like a person for a second. If there’s a stick of gum inside, even better!

So today I want to highlight some of the incredible letters and cards Nate has been receiving, I’m amazed at everyone’s thoughtfulness. We’re not done yet, so please keep writing, I feel blessed because of you.

Dog owners – Can you believe that Nate is getting a letter from a couple who adopted our emotionally disturbed greyhound, Toughie? Years ago, we were the owners of a retired racing greyhound. Poor Toughie was an emotional basket case and we had to find him another home. Before going over the Rainbow Bridge, Toughie found some infinitely patient souls to care for him. Now they are sending Nate a letter! Oh how he will chuckle seeing the name Toughie again!

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Oh dear nephew, your cousin will cherish this picture forever! He will love all the detail and action! I love you and so does Nate! RLTW!

Cousins – This picture is from Nate’s seven-year old cousin, Jon. The more I look at this picture, the more I love it. Tanks, swamps, fish, words of encouragement, this drawing also has plenty of action and Nate is smiling through the whole thing. I’m not so sure about that in real life but I do know this. Nate will grin ear to ear because of this letter. According to Jon, Nate is the #1 23-year-old and I have to agree!

Katie and the kids she's working with this summer.

Katie and the kids she’s working with this summer.

Classmates and cool kids – One of Nate’s high school classmates is working with K-5th kids this summer.

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Daniel, this is a beautifully written letter. You are a really nice guy!

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974857_10201224092465611_1526572933_n Stacey, this letter is a work of art. Nate will love it!

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Thank you Alajah for thinking of my Soldier.

Since Nate is a strong example of perseverance, obedience, courage and integrity, determination, Katie had an idea.

Last week she talked to her kids about unconditional love. Then the kids sent him some snail mail. Just look at the adorable sentiments expressed by these precious children!

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So bright and colorful! Much prettier than looking at the swamps! Thanks y’all!

Thanks to Katie and her efforts, Nate will receive 30 Scripture filled letters from these boys and girls. This will mean the world to him!

Brothers – Equally delightful are the cards my orange hair, freckle face OS sends his brother.

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It takes a unique mind to come up with this character. What a creative little brother!

Spermy the Whale is the featured character Ike created during his middle school years.

Spermy now makes regular appearances on correspondence with Nate.

In particular, Nate has specifically mentioned how much he enjoys getting these bizarre greetings.

Ike really makes some interesting cards...

Ike really makes some interesting cards…I know he enjoys sending them to his bro.

It would seem that Spermy the Whale is transforming from a gangsta with grillz and a gold chain to entering the business world sporting a briefcase and a professional tie. The grillz are now a thing of the past. Um, ok!

My joy multiples as a mom. On behalf of all the families we represent who have a son, fiance, husband, boyfriend or brother in Ranger School, know it is a highlight for us to know others care.

From Korea to California, Texas to Michigan, El Salvador to New York and all points in between, thank you, bless you. We should never undervalue the significance of sending support to our military servicemen and women.

Questions: If you have a special person in the military, how have letters and cards helped your loved one?  What are creative ways you offer support to others! Let’s share ideas!

Prepare your young ones for dinner guests, it’s worth it!

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This dining room has housed many memories indeed!

This dining room has housed many memories.

When our olive shoots were small, we had little training sessions about manners.

We stressed several important things with our guys to prepare them for “company.” Now that they are 23, 18 and 16 respectively, I see the fruit of our labors. They really know how to be gracious hosts.

Here are the things we worked on:

1. Firm handshakes

2. Eye contact

3. Addressing adults by their last names.

Yes, this kid does have manners...

Yes, this kid does have manners…

To make the teaching time fun, (and I realize that the word “fun” might be a stretch), either one of my olive shoots or I would go into the hall closet. It was filled with coats and whatnot and after a second, I’d knock on the door or pretend to ring the doorbell. When the guys would “answer” the door, I would extend my hand and give them a hearty “Hello!”

From there, we practiced those aforementioned skills – often I’d invent a wildly funny last name with ample alliteration. One of my favorite last names was Mrs. Schpuhboodydootin. Oh the giggles we shared while learning the importance of addressing adults with respect. Occasionally I’d even hyphenate her name to keep things interesting.

This boy needed some teaching but that's ok!

This boy needed some teaching but that’s ok!

Let me tell you something. There isn’t anything cuter than being greeted by a little ginger boy with a strong handshake. Follow that up with a big brother who addresses you with  confidence and a middle guy asking to take your coat and welcome you into the home and shablam, there was a sweet mood in the air before the dinner even got started.

All this cost me was time and these guys were worth the investment.

I can’t tell you how many people have told me how conversational my boys were even during the awkward growing years. Those light-hearted training sessions were useful!

Controversial as it may seem, I do find the whole last-name thing ironic. We applaud our little children as they develop an ample vocabulary but we dumb them down when it comes to using an adult’s last name. People even put their kids in language classes to help them become bi-lingual but wow, ask them to use an adult’s last name and the parents instantly think it’s impossible!

That same dining room many years ago. Ike still sits in the same chair.

That same dining room many years ago. Ike still sits in the same chair.

Yes there are cultural preferences but people have told me that calling me Mrs. Cindy is a Northern thing, then others inform me that calling me Mrs. Cindy is a Southern phenomenon. I really don’t care, the standard in our home was to use an adult’s last name out of respect. We wanted to keep the bar high because it shows the preciousness of others.

As we taught our guys the fine art of cordiality, I always wanted to lift the standard. I can’t tell you how many people would say my last name was too difficult for their kids to pronounce. Really? My boys found a sense of comfort in acknowledging that they were in the midst of their elders.

This guy is now an officer in the Army!

This guy is now an officer in the Army!

Of course we had no idea one day our oldest OS would be a West Point graduate and an officer in the Army.

I know Nate appreciates the significance of rank and decorum. Maybe he learned some of that in our home training ground. Now it makes me smile when I hear people refer to him with respect and honor. A part of my heart leaps when people salute him, how can that be? He’s just a sugar boy after all.

Sugar boy/Soldier

Sugar boy/Soldier

I’d love to hear what you think about my suggestions. I realize I might have opened up a can of controversy with the whole last name thing but I want to put it out there. What are you doing to train your kids to be ready for guests?

Excerpts from Ranger School – sermons, mountains, marches

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Mount Yonah in Georgia

Mount Yonah in Georgia

Apparently Miley Cyrus’ house can be seen on top one of the mountains. but that’s not the reason my Soldier is at Mount Yonah. Far from it but I know Nate chuckled upon hearing this celebrity factoid in the middle of Ranger School.

Fortunately our oldest olive shoot is a frequent writer. I think he writes as much for himself as for us since he wants to chronicle this epic event. One day he’s going to look upon this moment with a sense of wonder. These letters are proof that yes, he did it! 

I have especially marveled at his recent letters. The physicality of the task and the way the Lord is speaking to him, I am truly in awe.

Here are some excerpts that you might enjoy.

“Mount Yonah, brutal ruck up, it’s a timed pass-fail event with 70 pounds on our back during the ruck. It started off pretty well but towards the end it went basically straight up the mountain.

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By the time I got to the top, I was spent physically and mentally.

Some of those grueling ruck marches can really get to your head. Rather than think about the pain, I just think to myself, “Don’t settle.”

Later in the day we practiced using ropes to haul things like our ruck sacks or a casualty up and down the mountain. The litter we used for the “casualty” ended up weighing about 200 pounds and we just grabbed ropes and put on our 70 pound rucks and dragged them up the mountain. It was miserable. After that we started using pulley systems to drag our stuff and that worked better. The mountain was so steep and slippery I ate it a bunch of times.946456_10200144877568210_1352709177_n

We’ll be on some decent sized hills but we’re not hiking straight up mountains on our missions.

Looking better, smelling nicer, feeling like they were ready to do this. Rangers lead the way! Let's do this!

I’m positive the guys don’t look or smell this good any more! Pray for them, please!

…speaking of food. I’m starving. The have been feeding us three meals a day but I am still starving by the time chow comes around, I start a chow chant. We say, “Chow, chow, chow, chow, chow, chow everybody!” just like that Lil Jon song “Shots.” You gotta have fun somehow so we just cut up and act immature during our down time at least. We put our game face on come mission time.”

15 may 2013

Yesterday the chaplain came and gave an amazing sermon.

He read from Philippians 3:3-15 and talked about running the race for Christ. He told this story about a 10 mile race his ex-Gf asked him to run with her in high school.

It was at 6,000 feet in Colorado and he trained for months in advance so he could impress her.

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The inside of Nate’s hat. I’m going to write about this soon.

When the time came for the race he ditched his girl- friend to hang out with his buddies for the week- end.

He said he doesn’t even re- member what he did that weekend but he did re- member getting a letter in the mail that said “Congrats on finishing the race. Here’s a picture of your photo finish” and it had a picture of someone else crossing the finish line with his bib number on.

He said from that day he committed to never letting anyone else finish a race he was called to run, whether it was being a father, husband, pastor or finishing Ranger School.

I was very encouraged by the message.

Love, Nate

So now you can understand why I cherish these letters from my son. He brings the experience home for the rest of us on the sidelines.

Please pray for all the guys in Ranger School to not settle and to finish strong! And while you’re at it, lift this very special Ranger up to the Lord today. Colonel Kail is a dear friend of ours undergoing a procedure today for a very serious cancer. One of the best guys we’ll ever know and a great mentor to our Soldier.

RLTW!

Colonel Kail is my friend, part two

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Eric and his family.

Eric and his family.

Lord willing, Colonel Kail will have a retirement ceremony on 31 May at West Point, then the packers will come three days later.

With the diagnosis of stage 4 transitional cell carcinoma, life began to drastically change for the Kail’s. The one thing that hasn’t wavered but remained steadfast is Eric’s optimism and faith.

Eric is an awesome dad and husband. He’s a Colonel in the United States Army and has also 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. Eric also has a PhD in organizational psychology. His latest assignment was as the course director for military leadership at West Point.

Impressed? You should be!

Here’s where you come in. Would you be so kind as to pray for this man? Eric has a few medical procedures to complete prior to heading for Texas. A few new spots on the spine and sacrum causes weakness in his right leg and severe pain and stiffness in both legs.

Though he moves around like a 90-year-old man, Eric retains his wit and wisdom.

In return for your prayers, with Eric’s permission, I am sharing a recent experience he had at the airport.

Here’s the remarkable thing that happened to him at the airport.

I’m very prone to take matters into my own hands and to gut things out, get the mission done without complaining. I was beginning to feel like my ability to do certain things was dropping off and a book I was reading allowed me to spend time covering God’s instructions to Elijah.

Specifically, delivering bad news to Ahab then going to live in a cave during a drought.

God told Elijah that he would have birds bring him food; not the kind of delivery we think about for food these days. Now, I’m not by any means comparing myself to Elijah, but the lesson was clear.

God will provide every internal and external resource needed to do what He calls us to do.

Well, the day after I read this story I met a complete stranger in a crowded airport lounge.

He was an Indian man who is a missionary living in the U.S. and still tied to missions work in India aimed at reaching their remote tribal populations.

In fact, his son had died in his 20s while working as a missionary in a remote tribal village.

We began discussing what we did and he asked about what God has called me to do through my battle with cancer.

I shared with him that unless my health took a positive swing, that I may have to curtail my speaking engagements and such.

Then he asked me if I knew much about Elijah.

I laughed and shared with him about what I had read the day before.

As my son would say, "Colonel Kail is the man!"

As my son would say, “Colonel Kail is the man!”

So, we stopped what we were doing and he prayed for me right there in the middle of a very crowded airport lounge.

He prayed specifically that God would make clear his provisions for me and my family as we set out to do His work.

No way it was an accident that this man and I spent an hour together in a crowded public spot.

It gets better.

The next day, my devotional was from 1 Kings, specifically Elijah’s meeting the widow who had just enough flour and oil to make one last meal for her and her son before they died.

Elijah instructed her to make some bread for him too, and that God would provide for her until the drought was over. She did and her flour and oil never ran out.

However, her son did die while Elijah was staying as guest in her home. She asked if this was a curse from God. Elijah took the boy up to his bed, laid on top of him, and prayed three times for God to restore the boy’s spirit to his body. God did just that.

So, I get the message pretty clearly.

Our natural default is to look for our own strength and resources to do even what God has called us to do, when He will supply all we need.

This is hard to do when coordinating things like a final move, buying a home, arranging travel, conducting a retirement ceremony, and oh yes, battling cancer.

Just like meeting Eric and Gigi at Sunday School many years ago in Apex, North Carolina, God arranged for Eric and this man to bond in a crowded airport lounge. What were the chances of that? I love seeing God move in his people.

Let’s move spiritual mountains for Colonel Kail. Share this with others too.

Eric and Gigi

Eric and Gigi

Please pray specifically for the following:

– That scheduling for moving would fall into place
– That the nerve pain and limited mobility would not get any worse between now and beginning treatment
– That the MRI of his brain would show success of the procedure and no other tumors
– That there wouldn’t be any flare ups while in transit from NY to TX
– That he can physically able to do his retirement ceremony on 31 May

In addition, he has promised to commission FIVE cadets at West Point next weekend. He swore our son in last year and it was such a meaningful honor.

Let us pray without ceasing for this man who so freely gives to others. Bless you, Colonel Kail!

Here is the background story if you missed it.