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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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

$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!

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.

Eight hour pass – Ranger School, part one

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We are now home after a whirlwind, eight-hour visit with our Ranger candidate. We wouldn’t have traded it for anything but goodness, we are two tired parents!

photo copy 27This is the beginning of some posts about this interesting chapter as military parents.

1. On Thursday night we received a very brief phone call from a Ranger Instructor, informing us that our son had passed the Darby phase and that the guys would be ready at 9am. We got there a little early and the parking lot was filling up with excited family members and friends.

2. Soldiers walked by inside Camp Rogers and collectively, our eagerness was dashed until 10 am. A few moms/wives spoke to their Soldier through the fence and learned their guys were recycles. I felt so bad for them. A couple of guys trudged out, ragged and thin some informing us that they had been dropped. I spoke to a few of the women and learned I was not alone in trying to figure out if we had caught a glimpse of our Soldier.

3. Taxis were waiting and a couple of guys paid a driver an additional $20 to wait specifically for them no matter what. I helped facilitate the transaction by handing the $20 to the cabbie through the fence. When a couple other guys tried to take the taxi, there was a moment of tension but it all worked out.

4. A picture I snapped while waiting. We were not prepared for the pressure we would feel trying to get everything done. This was calm before the storm.photo copy 22

5. I didn’t bother with any makeup, the mission was clear. Take care of the kid and his buddies. No glitz or glamour. Not much of that kind of girl anyway but yeah, this is me. Understandably many of the girlfriends and wives looked pretty and dressed up. I’m just a mom, no need to bother. It’s all good.

6. The first time at Fort Benning several weeks ago, we learned our son was a recycle. Since this was our second time at Fort Benning, it was a blessing to learn he had passed. The Hubs paced that road waiting for his boy.

7. It took us longer to travel to him, then we had to spend time with him but we’re not complaining. The Hubs and I were honored to be able to serve our Solider and his buddies.

8. At 10 am, there was a blur of young men pouring out of the Camp Rogers.

9. People were happy. Very happy! People kissed and hugged, shook hands and cried. FREEDOM!

10. Time was of the essence as the guys just wanted to get out and enjoy the eight-hour pass.

photo copy 2811. As full as the parking lot had been, soon it was thinning out. An incredible amount of things to do in a very limited time.

12. My boy still looked like he had some meat on his bones and we took him and we whisked two other buddies the heck out of Fort Benning. Now the fun began! Rev your engines, here we go!

Five minute Friday – rest

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My first and only poem to spaghetti.

My first and only poem to spaghetti.

Oh big pot of spaghetti, do not fret

Though your Ranger Soldier isn’t back yet

Soon you will feed him and bring his lips taste

He’s been eating MRE’s, licking the wrappers as not to waste

Your zest and your flavors, your love and your care

Will renew him on eagle’s wings, he will return to the training field and then you will dare

To go back into the cabinet, wishing you could have done more

Life is exciting with a Soldier to adore!

The day will fly by, be satisfied with your task

You nourished a man who will praise God for the delicious repast

"Please feed me!" "We will, Sugar Boy!"

“Please feed me!” “We will, Sugar Boy!”

So while you can, Spaghetti, get your rest

Tomorrow’s your big day, you’re truly feeding the best of the best!

Five minutes of writing, it's wonderful for wordsmiths!

Five minutes of writing, it’s wonderful for wordsmiths!