Good people taught me how to live an honorable life. First, learn from your mistakes or you’re doomed to repeat them. Next, pace yourselves. My friend Moose always said, “Life is one long patrol.” Think about how you would run a race if there was no finish line. Real success takes time and a lot of hard work. Be safe as you work towards your goals. Be safe in all areas of your life. Don’t be crazy. Don’t be stupid. Don’t be John Wayne. Be Safe.
Tragedy and heartbreak will come to us all, and growth comes from struggle. The struggle has no conscience and a very short attention span. You will get knocked down, but your true character is defined by how you get back up. We don’t realize what we’re capable of until we get pushed past the breaking point. Vince Lombardi said, “The guy at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” And, you can be sure every step was an uphill climb. So, be ready. Train your mind and body like it’s the real thing every time. Do this in all aspects of your life, but pace yourselves.
Honorable people forgive easily, and they don’t hold on to hatred. Holding on to hatred is like holding on to a red-hot coal with your hands. The only way you can keep holding on to it is by tapping into the rage it creates in the first place. You must let go of it because it’s only hurting you in the end. I’ve never heard of anybody on their death bed that said, “I wish I would have hated some more.” Love, mercy, and grace always win.
Real leaders have a way of inspiring, teaching, and mentoring that not only lifts us up as human beings, but they also teach us how to pay it forward. The good ones all have one thing in common; humility. When you’re already walking on water, there’s no need to splash the disciples. Arrogance kills; it kills the mission, and it kills people. Stay humble.
In 2008, I was playing in a band at a dive bar on Trash Two Street in Okinawa. Sergeant Mike Ferschke used to come around the shows with his buddies. It was impossible to miss the table full of jacked Recon guys and their hot girlfriends. I got to know Mike, and I did a TV story on his platoon during some SPIE training. I had to film at two different LZs simultaneously and we only had a small window of opportunity to film. So, the platoon sergeant, who was a friend of mine, told me to borrow Mike’s car (the keys were in it). I managed to rip the front bumper off it. Later, I tried to pay Mike for the damages and he said it was just a beater car and it didn’t matter. He jokingly said, “Write me a song.” Then, his platoon punched out to the sandbox.
Months later, at the end of another uneventful day of walk-and-knocks, one last mud hut had to be cleared. Mike was the team leader and he didn’t need to be the number one man. He chose to lead from the front. “Come on boys, let’s do this,” he said. There were nine guys waiting for him. The number two man also got hit and blown back. The ensuing gunfight went on for most of the night and it was brutal. A few days prior to making entry on that mud hut, he found out that his girlfriend was pregnant. So, he married her by proxy from the sandbox and was looking forward to being a husband and a father when he died. The son he never got to meet, looks just like him.
They held his wake at an Irish Pub, and they asked me to play. They wanted to hear the dirtiest, saddest songs I had ever written. During a break in the set, his brothers borrowed the makeshift stage to say their goodbyes to Mike’s spirit. I was in the corner, still holding my guitar. Witnessing their grief, made me feel like an impostor. In that moment, I understood what sacrifice really meant.
Years later, those same men gathered in Mike’s hometown for the unveiling of a statue in Mike’s honor. And, something very interesting happened after the ceremony. They all gathered at Mike’s parent’s house and traded pictures of their kids, told stories and laughed a lot. It was clear that they had been honoring Mike’s sacrifice by doing two things. First, they tried to live their lives to the fullest; life is for living. They laughed easy and often. They understood what a precious gift life is. They also made sure their children knew who Mike Ferschke was. That’s when I understood honor like I never had before.
Hold dear the sacrifices of those who have gone before. Honor their memory by doing what’s right, for the right reasons, even when nobody is looking. An honorable person knows that courage is the acknowledgment of fear. And, commitment is simply trying again.
Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not here yet; worrying about it is pointless. Live right now. You will make mistakes and maybe you even made some today. But, right now, you are alive. You can be a better person. Do it and find your gratitude. There’s always something to be thankful for. And, never stop learning. That’s something else the good ones do; they keep their mind open throughout their lives.
Be smart, be safe, be humble. Choose to be part of the solution and have faith. I promise that if you do these things with no malice in your heart, it will all work out.