If you ain’t Cav you ain’t shit! – traditional U.S. Cavalry saying A book review of Jimmy Blackmon’s* Pale Horse: Hunting Terrorists and Commanding Heroes in the 101st Airborne Division U.S. …
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Sometimes I strain to hear answers to questions I never asked. I was too young, I suppose. She died before I was old enough, or wise enough, to ask the things that I now wish I had. It sounds silly to try and listen for answers from the dead, but I find myself hoping that if I try hard enough a memory somewhere deep within my mind will catch fire and rise from the dead. Nothing would be more rewarding.
She was kind enough to wait until I was overseas in the Army before she died. It surprised me when she passed on, because she was always a contradiction to me. All of my life she looked old, but her mind and spirit were young and full of life. Old people are supposed to act a certain way, but apparently no one ever told her. Or else she refused to listen.
When I was in fourth and fifth grade I ran laps around her house almost daily. One day, I bragged about how fast I was and that old woman challenged me to a foot race. She must have been seventy by then, but that did not stop her from laying her apron on the ground and assuming a starting stance with her toe on the pine branch she designated as the start and finish line. This old woman must have lost her mind, I thought to myself.
She gave the commands. “On your mark, get set, GO!” she said, and took off like a mad granny in a sun dress.
I called her for a false start, but the fact remains – she beat me.
“Oh honey,” she said. “You were probably just tired from all those laps you ran before we raced.”
She never owned a cell phone, never saw a computer or a video game. I’m so thankful for that, because those things might have robbed me of a few precious memories that I hold dear still today. Instead, she instructed me in life. She taught me to shell peas, shuck corn, chop cabbage, cook potatoes, and about a go-zillion other things. In wisdom that spanned her nine plus decades and multiple generations of mothers and grandmothers before her, she acknowledged that some snakes were poisonous and others weren’t, “But if you treat them all the same you’ll never go wrong, Hon’.”
Why tell all these things? Why does any of it matter anyway? Well, there just seems to be a lot of static in the world today. So many things compete for our time that we sometimes forget the memory-makers – those things that will leave our posterity with cherished recollections of time spent with us. As she snapped peas and dropped them into a bowl without ever looking down, she told me about her life during two world wars and the great Depression. I wasn’t texting, Tweeting, or Instagramming. I was listening to my sweet grandmother’s voice. I don’t know if she realized how much it meant to me, and how much I appreciated the fact that she never tired of talking to me.
Sometimes I wonder if I make myself busy with the right things. Perhaps it’s worth considering. Maybe it’s something we should all think about.😉
Except for days when my wife spells me of my post-army duties, I drive my daughter to school. Each day, without fail, we encounter a transformation in mood as we approach the first crossing guard at Richview Middle School.
An Africa American gentleman in his late fifties mans the crosswalk in front of the school, and his smile changes the mood of everyone that sees it, even those with the temperament of a cornered rattler. It’s magical.
Despite the weather, he points, waves, laughs, and beams with a toothy smile that draws your attention like Sauron’s eye. One cannot help but smile back at the man. He is quite literally a flashlight in the land of the blind. Subconsciously, facial muscles flex and despite the traffic that flows like molasses, despite the fact that it’s early, despite the fact that most drivers are sipping some caffeinated beverage to try and part the morning fog inside their heads, everyone returns the smile – an exchange of gladness.
His magical aura and mood of genuine happiness is infectious. I do not know the man. I’ve never spoken to him. I’ve only exchanged smiles and even caught myself waving at him to make sure that he knows that I know and appreciate the fact that he chooses to be happy every day of his earthly existence. I can sense that he made a decision a long time ago that he would face each day with cheerfulness, and that deserves my recognition, my gratitude.
We’ve all encountered an environment where the climate was foul. Eternal pessimists are sadly also infectious within an organization. They breed ill will and negativity like diseased rats. Subsequently, they should be cured or eradicated – figuratively of course. But, we’re not here to talk about our organizational cavities. We are here to praise those like our Richview crossing guard.
Whether you are the CEO or a line employee, if you want to make a difference in the climate within your organization, begin tomorrow with a smile and a positive attitude. Find something good in all those you encounter. Emulate the behavior you’d like to see within your organization, and soon you will be met with a mirrored smile from all those you meet. It can’t be helped – smiles breed smiles.
From Ranger to the White House
“That boy wasn’t raised right,” my daddy said in a hushed tone, tucking his chin so as not to start trouble, yet making sure that I understood what unacceptable behavior looked like when I saw it. Those were my formative years, and what my father was telling me was that, “if a boy isn’t taught how to act as a child, he will behave like a horse’s rear end when he’s a grown man, or trying to become one.”
I must confess that by the time I reached adulthood myself, I had observed a few men that no kind of childhood rearing could have fixed; nevertheless, Daddy’s theory held true for the vast majority of those I watched grow up. Childhood barriers, consistency, and a clear understanding of exactly what conduct would and would not be tolerated, shaped behavior later in life.
Daddy broke the silence as we drove down the Red Bud Road in his old Chevrolet. “Your word is your honor,” he said. “Don’t ever compromise that.”
I don’t even know if he thought I heard him, because I did not answer. I just listened, and rocked hard in that old bench seat as if trying to help that Chevy climb the hill to Carter’s Dam. I assumed, or at least hoped, that he would reward honesty, so I put the theory to the test one dark night standing in our driveway. “Did you boys shoot those windows out with BB guns?” he sternly asked.
I swallowed hard, bowed my head, and threw a silent prayer to the man upstairs. “Yes, sir. We did it,” I said.
“Get inside the house and wait for me to get back,” he said.
Despite the fact that I deserved it, he didn’t whip me. Instead, he said, “I knew you did it, but I wanted to see if you’d own up to it. The only reason you’re not getting a whippin’ is because you told the truth,” and I never forgot that lesson.
“Quit that foolishness,” he’d say, and that meant to stop at that precise moment. Quit meant quit. A second request would not be issued. Given the fact that you could potentially face a judge for looking overly mean at a child in public today, some folks might consider that harsh parenting. The truth is, he never drew blood or left a lasting mark. He didn’t even have to whip me but about twice in eighteen years – just enough to demonstrate his resolve. There was that time I threw a fit in the shoe store. Momma warned me not to pitch a fit before we got there, but I suppose I thought she was bluffing.
I would not have made a good poker player.
She told the shoe salesman to get my size of a particular shoe. I informed her that I didn’t want those shoes and then pointed to the ones I did want. Decades later I would learn that the price tags on shoes vary substantially. I embarrassed her, and no child ought to do that.
She took me to the car and reminded me that she had warned me beforehand. We swung by Daddy’s work to ensure that I had a complete and thorough understanding of what “Don’t pitch a fit,” meant. We never had a need to relearn that lesson.
The second time wasn’t really a whipping but rather a clarification – a mutual understanding. I was a teenager and had finally evolved into the creature my father had described to me years earlier. “In a couple of years,” he told me. “You will know everything, and I won’t know anything.”
It seemed odd for my father to say such a thing, but he was prophetic! Just like he described, as I grew in age and intelligence, his and my mother’s knowledge diminished proportionately. One afternoon, my mother was getting onto me about something. As was the case in those days, “She just did not understand.” I thought I was clear of that old recliner he sat in. I thought I was out of earshot. I thought I said it low enough, under my breath, so that no one would hear it.
I was mistaken.
In a display of the worst judgment I may have ever exhibited in my life, I disrespected my mother. “I wish she’d shut up,” I mumbled.
The entire house shook as he slammed that recliner down and both boots hit the floor. They say there are times in life – near death experiences – when one can see his life flash before his eyes. I did not see my life on display, but I did seem to think that my spirit had departed my body, so as not to be present when he ended it.
When he got to me, I was fairly confident that it would be my last day on earth. If I did live to see another Georgia sunrise, I was fairly confident that it would be through bruised eyes. He grabbed me by the neck, and when he pinned me to the wall, my feet were about six inches off the ground. Then he leaned in real close and informed me of his God given right to end me.
I believed him, and that is why he never had to remind me of that little tidbit of information again.
Today, I am a planner – a strategist. My work involves things like trying to determine how to deter other nations from exhibiting what the rest of the world considers inappropriate behavior. My father didn’t have nuclear weapons or an army. He isn’t even a big man. He simply refused to have another man look at his boy, tuck his chin, and whisper to his own son, “That boy wasn’t raised right.”
My father knew how to deter bad behavior. He was consistent. No meant no. Quit meant quit. He didn’t count to three. He didn’t draw lines in the sand only to redraw them when they were crossed. Heck, he didn’t draw lines period. I got one shot at listening, but if he only whipped me once during my childhood, it would be reasonable to ask, “Why didn’t I see if he’d say no or quit a second time.”
I didn’t test those waters because I believed he would punish me. No, I knew he’d do it. He would wear me out if I didn’t listen. That is what we call deterrence. He didn’t have to whip me because I knew that if I showed my rear end and did not listen, I’d wind up on the receiving end of some fatherly aggression.
That I can recall, he never uttered the word leadership, but I sure did learn a lot about leading and human behavior growing up. I think a few of our nation’s leaders could learn a few things from my father. It doesn’t matter what kind of military or weapon systems a nation possesses. If the other fellow doesn’t believe that you will use them, he’ll see if you won’t count to three. He’ll test you to see if you’ll redraw that line in the sand. Whether you are leading a child or a nation, until no means no, you are going to spend a lot of time renegotiating artificial limitations.
Jimmy F. Blackmon
Along the cascading headwaters of Big Creek, where mountain laurel shades the journey of rolling spring water bound for lowland rivers. Where the night song of water tumbling over rocks sings a comforting hymn of friendship rekindled. Silvertip, where the lush green backdrop of the Chattahoochee invites the soul to ponder meaning. Where deep dark pools are cut with light as rainbows roll on mayflies ere evening falls. For far too long our paths divided, kindred spirits reunited.
My friend John Demmer has won four International Bowhunting Organization World Championships in archery. He has won eight National Field Archery Association and USA Archery National Championships. At the 2015, NFAA Mid-Atlantic Sectional Championships John Shot a 299 out of a possible 300. Using a recurve bow with no sights, standing twenty yards from the target, John put fifty-nine out of sixty arrows in the 3.15” five-ring. Thirty-seven arrows, over half, were in the X-ring, which is a mere 1.5.”
What if I told you that I could work with you for a few hours and you could beat John Demmer at archery? You could……if I blindfold John, spun him around a few times and then told him to shoot the target. You see John can’t hit a target that he cannot see. Nor can you reach a goal that you have not set. Setting goals is critical to success in any endeavor.
Below is a picture of my running logs dating back to 1981.
Each of those logs, spanning almost forty years, began with realistic goals for that particular year. My goals, the logs, nor the training itself would guarantee that I would win a championship race. They would not even guarantee that I would win a local fun run, but they would certainly assist me on the road to maximizing my own personal potential, and your goals can do the same for you.
“You can only control what you can control,” my good friend and archery coach, Rod Jenkins often says. It sounds silly. Of course you can only control what you can control, but what Rod is actually saying is that you control everything when it comes to achieving your potential. You define success, and success is a choice.
I began running when I was very young. I ran competitively until I entered the Army, and then I only ran recreationally. In 1995, I was attending an Army school at Fort Knox, Kentucky. One spring afternoon, I turned the television on and saw the Olympic Track and Field Trials. I watched the 5,000m and the 10,000m races with great interest. Bob Kennedy and Todd Williams ran wonderful races that qualified them for the 1996 Olympics. Both Bob and Todd were only a couple of years younger than me. Throughout high school and college, I had watched them achieve their own goals. Seeing them run so well at the trials made me wonder what I could have achieved had I continued running competitively.
I walked to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I was twenty-eight years old. Having focused on Rugby and lifting weights more than running, I weighed 200 pounds. Okay, I was fat and out of shape. That afternoon I committed to seeing how well I could run. If Tylenol and Motrin had been banned substances, I would have been hotter than a firecracker within a week.
At first I only ran two to three miles per day. Within a few weeks I got a five mile run in, then an eight miler, and a ten. Soon I was up to thirty miles per week and the weight began to drop. My initial goal was to run sub-33:00 for a 10K and sub-16:00 for a 5K. I did not set a date within which to reach my goal. It was just out there. In December of that same year, I ran a 5K race in 16:33. I weighed 150 pounds. In February of the following year I ran the lead five-mile leg of a marathon relay at the Austin Motorola Marathon and ran 26:02. I was making significant progress. The following summer I ran 32:26 for a 10K, 15:31 for 5K, and in 2000 I placed third at the Richmond Marathon with a time of 2:33, which was an average pace of 5:51 per mile. I weighed 139 pounds that day.
I never qualified for the Olympic Trials, nor did I ever win a major marathon. You see I could not control how fast my competition ran, nor could I control how much fast-twitch muscle was packed into my legs. The only thing I could control was my commitment to work. Focused training would enable me to maximize my own personal potential, whatever that potential might be.
A few years later, I won a 10K road race in Washington, DC. After the race I was sitting on the curb recovering. A fellow walked up to me and said, “You know you amaze me. It’s just no effort at all to run fast. It must be nice to have been born with all that talent, for it to come so easy.”
I smiled and said, “Thank you, sir,” but what I really wanted to say was, “You have no idea what I went through to run this fast. In January, when it was 20 degrees out and drizzling rain, I put in a twenty miler, because I knew that others would peek out the window and decide to sleep in.”
Like Rod said, I controlled the things I could control, and you can too. Maybe you want to get more sales next year in your job. Perhaps, you want to lose ten pounds, improve your tennis game, your recreational league basketball game. Maybe you want to qualify for the Olympic Trials! No matter where you want to find success, you must set goals and you must fully commit. Remember, success is a choice, but that choice will involve sacrifice.
Define your own success and commit to maximizing your potential today!
Jayber Crow, born in Goforth, Kentucky, orphaned at age ten, began his search as a “pre-ministerial student” at Pigeonville College. There, freedom met with new burdens and a young man needed more than a mirror to find himself. But the beginning of that finding was a short conversation with “Old Grit,” his profound professor of New Testament Greek. “You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out–perhaps a little at a time.” “And how long is that going to take?” “I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.” “That could be a long time.” “I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.” Eventually, after the flood of 1937, Jayber becomes the barber of the small community of Port William, Kentucky. From behind that barber chair he lives out the questions that drove him from seminary and begins to accept the gifts of community that enclose his answers. The chair gives him a perfect perch from which to listen, to talk, and to see, as life spends itself all around. In this novel full of remarkable characters, he tells his story that becomes the story of his town and its transcendent membership.