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

8 Comments

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.

photo copy 3

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:

Advertisements

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

2 Comments

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

Seeing Nate for the first time after completing Ranger School

1 Comment

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!

2013-07-10 15.57.58

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!

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

20 Comments

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!

Tomorrow’s a big day – final results of Ranger School

8 Comments

photo copy 8We are anywhere from 12-24 hours away from hearing the big news about our Ranger School student.

Did he pass?

Did he not pass?

I cannot even bring myself to use the other word for not passing.

I suppose you can feel my heart beating straight through this blog.

Thump-thump thump-thump thump…

Oh, if I hadn’t had that cardiac ablation a few years ago, I think this ticker would really be giving me fits.

We await the hidden message –

$40 ATM withdrawal – my Soldier got his tab

$60 ATM withdrawal – he didn’t

Whether it’s my physical heart or the mama one that the Lord fashioned me with 23 years ago upon learning I was pregnant, I’ll never get used to this waiting stuff. It doesn’t suit me just like these wrinkles in between my forehead and the other daily assaults endured by many a middle aged woman.

Nate’s been through two recycles (Darby and swamps) and this is his last chance to pass. We await him with open arms and gifts either way. Tears of joy or pangs of sadness, oh my, I don’t even know what to expect.

All we know for sure is that his days of

  • getting 2-3 hours of sleep
  • eating MREs in 30 seconds
  • having a core body temp of 104 degrees at least once
  • trudging 800 meters through the Florida swamps
  • then marching 9 kilometers to his patrol base at night
  • followed by 17 more kilometers to somewhere else
  • while carrying 80-100 pounds on his back
  • at two in the morning
  • being away from communication and contact with loved ones
  • for over 140 days

these things will be over by this time next week.

A new life chapter will begin.

As we await this news, I’m clinging to these verses.

Oh how I love this child.

Oh how I love this child.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (my emphasis) 

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! – Psalm 139:13-17

$40, $60…thump-thump-thump…RLTW. Either way, we love you Nate. More soon…

Love and letters, part one

6 Comments

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!

1010297_10151583141616731_998581017_n

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.

photo copy

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

975371_10201224089425535_928892423_n

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

973222_10201175973902677_409052311_n

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!

975273_10201175979302812_1726915120_n

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.

photo copy 4

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!

Ranger School student – do not grow weary

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

My boy hadn’t showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

As wonderful as it was to hear our son preach on Father’s Day (and oh, it was indeed a blessing!) –

We found ourselves crestfallen later in the day when getting news about our oldest son who is at Ranger School.

Sending and receiving letters is the way loved ones communicate with their Ranger School students. Thankfully our Soldier is a frequent letter writer. A sizeable stack of letters has been accrued during his journey thus far. I’m reminded of the letters Nate began to write when he began his Army journey at West Point.

2013-06-23 15.53.51Ranger School students are also quite adept and clever and some have found another way of communicating very important information.

Through a simple ATM withdrawal, Ranger School students can communicate whether they think they are a “go.”

Last Sunday, Nate used the ATM withdrawal to speak to us.

The general rule of thumb is if a Ranger School student withdraws:

$20 – He probably passed.

$40 – He passed.

$60 – He probably didn’t pass.

When we checked Nate’s account (with his permission) we saw the dreaded withdrawal. $60. Crud muffins. On Father’s Day no less.

At this stage in the game, the guys are at their breaking point. Hungry. Exhausted. Sore. Smelly. Irritable.

Disappointed is not an adequate word to describe it felt learning this news. We all started wearing our grumpy pants. He was almost done with the whole thing. Bummer.

It even hurts to write this because the reality is that many of Nate’s close buddies graduated without him. Although we were (and are) really excited for them, I’d be lying if I didn’t say how sweet it would have been to see my boy get his tab with his buddies.

Yet if we linger on the melancholy, we’d miss God’s blessings. Beyond the tab, we trust in what the Lord is doing.

Though Nate had not received any mail, God arranged a special delivery of the highest order at a time he really needed it.

Cousins who are also brothers in Christ.

Cousins who are also brothers in Christ.

My cousin is in the Army. He’s in Special Forces as Battalion Chaplain. A well-seasoned, determined minister of the Gospel, Mike has the biggest heart for military families you ever did see. Mike is also very respected by his large, extended family of whom I am a part.

Well, guess who happens to be stationed in Florida?  You’ll never guess who preached at Nate’s chapel? Yes! My cousin!

So although I didn’t get to see or talk to my boy, a trusted family member did. Nate is as hungry spiritually as he is physically and what Mike shared with the guys challenged and encouraged them. Mike preached from these verses in the Bible –

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

The main point of his message was this. Trust your equipment.

According to Nate, the message resonated deeply with these weary men. Mike shared that he wasn’t just talking about a Soldier’s gear but something else deeply important. My cousin/chaplain encouraged these men to trust in God’s Word. It is fail safe, 100% reliable and true. As a veteran of Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq, Mike has married, buried, carried and tarried many a Soldier and his/her family. He’s got the cred to speak in a way that makes these guys listen. God has mightily used Mike and his family.

At one point during the message, one of the Nate’s buddies turned to him and said, “Dude, is this guy your cousin? He is awesome. He’s the best chaplain in the Army.” I imagine my weary boy sat up a little taller hearing these words.

The Lord’s ways are not our ways. He has a purpose. Even though this time it wasn’t for Nate to get his tab…Nate got a boost in his spirit. We pray he will become a Ranger on July 11th. But even if he doesn’t, the Lord is sovereign, we love him regardless, of course. We trust our equipment too and will not be dismayed.  RLTW.