Back in my Army and West Point days, I never thought of marching
and carrying a ruck in fitness terms. It
was a necessity. What you carried on
your back is what you brought into combat. The more you put in, the more you were weighed
down. The less you put in, the more you
ran the risk of being ill-prepared.
Recently, however, I realized the fitness benefits of rucking for civilians. I started carrying a weighted ruck in preparation for the Shadow West Point March back that happened last week. The March Back coincides with the annual 13-mile march back of the United States Military Academy’s Plebe Class at the conclusion of summer Cadet Basic Training. I and about 15 fellow members of the West Point Society of Central Texas finished the march last week. The March included loaded Rucksacks and the Texas Heat! See the picture below. The Weather Channel even filmed a piece about us! I will let you know when it comes out.
Rucking has many benefits and is my latest fitness obsession. There is even a community of Veterans that go
on rucking events. It is called GoRuck
and raises money for Veterans dealing with PTSD. I am currently training for the next major
event near Austin.
Here are the five major benefits of Rucking:
Impact. Unlike running that puts stress
on your joints, rucking is low impact especially if you pack your ruck
It burns 3 times the calories that walking does (even more in Texas
Carry your Hydration. A ruck provides a convenient compartment to
store water and remain hydrate. I fill
up the bladder from my Camelback in my ruck.
It adds weight and prevents me from passing out int the Texas heat!
I bought my rucksack for less than 40 dollars on Amazon. There is no need to get a specialized
rucksack unless you want to. To weight
it down, I just evenly distributed 5 lbs. weights that I already had in
Fun and social.
I loved marching with fellow members of the Long Grey Line and being out
Marching with a ruck is not just for the military. Pick up your ruck, lace up your shoes and
march back to health!
I had the good fortune in my early adult life to be in the Army. One of the perks in the Army is that you are paid to work-out every day. It was part of your role description and responsibility. An unfit soldier will put himself and his platoon at risk. I therefore had the pleasure and pain both at West Point and later active duty to exercise on a regular basis. Sometimes, it was exhilarating like singing cadence at the top of your lungs while on a battalion run. Other times brutal, such as the yearly Obstacle Course administered by the Department with a Heart at West Point. All of it good, necessary and part of your job description!
This all seemed to change when I left the Army and joined
the consulting world. Early morning
calls replaced morning PT. Long hours on
planes and in front of a desk slinging code took a toll on my health. It seemed in my mind at the time that fitness
and taking care of myself was no longer part of my job description or even
opposed to it. I and companies at that
time did not yet see the impact of wellness on work. The drive for more billable hours and seemingly
higher productivity dominated. This corporate culture (or my take on it)
resulted in weight gain, lost health, and a decline in productivity over time.
Like the Army, corporations have now come to realize that being
fit is a necessary part of the job.
Indeed, wellness is almost as important to the survival and strength of
the company as it is to an Army platoon.
Here are three reasons why:
Improves Decision Making. The enemy of all good decisions is
stress. Exercise and fitness help relieve
stress and keep away fatigue. A simple 20-minute walk will provide a few
minutes to clear your mind, allowing you to focus on the problem on hand. Better yet, get up and walk around the office
when taking a phone call meeting when things get heated. The simple step of
standing up will shake off the cobwebs that tend to collect during back to back
Comradery. The best thing about the Army was the
comradery. One way it was built was through
morning PT. While I am not advocating
each company go on a company run each morning, I am recommending a common
fitness program like Accenture Active. This
program has really helped me to know my colleagues better through fitness
events (MS 150, Annual Veterans Walk, etc.) and programs (active rewards
programs, Fitbit competition). One
example was a random competition that I and some colleagues engaged in on one
Saturday. One of my friends started a
Fitbit weekend competition and although we were all in different states, we
kept apprised with the others’ progress. We all engaged in friendly and sometimes hilarious
banter through the Fitbit app as we each surpassed 10 miles.
on Sick Days. Staying fit helps to
keep you out of the doctor’s office and in yours during working hours. Research conducted at Brigham Young University, the Center for
Health Research at Healthways and the Health Enhancement Research Organization,
suggests unhealthy eating is linked with a 66% increased risk of loss of
productivity while lack of exercise
is associated with a 50% increase risk of low productivity. My experience bears
this out. Before returning to fitness, I
was habitually hit with bronchitis and, at least twice a year, pneumonia. Both resulted in sick days and loss of
productivity when I worked through it.
Since returning to my target weight in Nov. 2015, I have had neither
bronchitis or pneumonia. Not sure how many
days have been saved but approximate it as at least a week a year. And, an increase of productivity on those
days that I should have been recovering and drove through and worked despite my
These are just the top three reasons why you should consider staying fit as part of your role description as a consultant. Increased productivity, esprit de corps and better decisions are just three reasons exercise is an imperative in the working world. Let me close with a cadence I wrote for my team as we run from one project to another:
I meant to write this blog a few weeks ago when I infiltrated the Oklahoma Football watch party for the Army versus Oklahoma game (see picture below). A devoted Army fan, I went to the only watch party for the game put on by the Oklahoma Alumni of Austin. I and two other of my West Point alumni joined close to 200 enthusiastic OU fans.
I thought I would leave the game about after 20 minutes since Army was supposed to lose by 30 points. But I ended staying to the end. For those who did not see the game, it went into overtime! Even though Army ultimately lost, they gave the powerhouse Oklahoma team a run for its money. How were they able to do it and go on to have a top 25 season (please, please stay there and Beat Navy!)? There are three characteristics of the Army Football team that lead to success both on the football team and for those trying to get healthy:
Consistency – The Army football team does not have a lot of plays, but what they do have they run in a consistent manner. Each player knows exactly were to block in their Flexbone Triple Option set. This scheme is run only at the Service Academies and it requires discipline and consistency. Each player needs to execute flawlessly due to the smaller size of the players. This type of consistency also served me well as I lost over 170 lbs! I did not have a lot of plays in my weight loss arsenal but what I did have (tracking points, walking, mindfulness), I did on a consistent basis. Each day I tracked my food, walked at least a mile, and spent at least 10 minutes on meditation. Much like Army pounds the football down the field, I pounded away the pounds with consistent execution!
Persistent – The Army football team persistently pursues its playbook even when behind. They do not stop running and driving even if they have to catch-up. Passes are few and far between as they methodically drive down the field. They never stop pursuing their game plan. This persistence is also necessary to successfully restore your health. When I started out, I could barely walk around the block. But little by little, through persistence, I was able to workup to 50 miles in a single day. I did not do it in a week or a month but through persistent exercise over the course of a year and half. Be persistent like the Army Football team and stick to your plan. You will get healthy!
Attitude – The Army Football team stands undaunted against any foe as they demonstrated in the OU game. They stay positive even when facing incredible odds. Also, even when they come up short in the end (like they did in the OU game), they do not let it get them down. They just pick themselves up and win the rest of season, driving into a top 25 spot! You need the same attitude when tackling a weight loss journey. Setbacks will inevitably happen. Like the time you gain 2 lbs in a week because of work demands cut, or eat too much for Thanksgiving (while watching football no less). But at these times, it is important to have a positive attitude and continue marching to your goal, just like the Army football team marches down the field!
I would like to end with a rephrased Army fight song for those driving to their weight loss goals:
I believe one of the most improbable goals in human history was undertaken by our founding fathers and mothers when they established this country. A country formed for the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Today I had the pleasure of attending a moving ceremony in memory of Memorial Day at Sun City in Georgetown, Texas. Senator Cornyn (listen here Memorial Day Speech ) and others spoke on how for over 230 years the servicemen and women of this country have laid down there lives for this idea. They gave their lives to keep us free and to allow the experiment of democracy to proceed.
But the experiment is fragile. Too often in today’s time, we do not listen to our fellow Americans. To see their side and to honor their equal right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Indeed, there is too much me and not enough us. And it is a disgrace to the sacrifices that these brave service men and women gave. They gave all for us. Can’t we honor their memory by at least listening to the ideas of our fellow Americans and engage in Civil Discourse?
We all must endeavor to see in shades of grey. To listen with open ears and understand what the other side is saying to honor the memories of our fallen. Indeed, it is fitting that the uniform of the United States Military Academy is Grey. Life is seldom Black and White. It is grey! And it is our responsibility to diligently discern the grey by nurturing this fragile dream of democracy and listening to our fellow Americans. To hear a compelling podcast on this topic from a guy pleading to you as I do, listen to Dan Carlin’s Common-Sense podcast linked here Common Sense – Shades of Grey.
I also spoke about in my previous blog about how I walked 50 miles in honor of Veterans, the aforementioned “improbable goal”. But what is more improbable, is that a citizenry of people of every creed and race giving their lives for a single idea. So today as a plea for all of us to get along, I take you through a virtual 50-mile walk with each 10-mile marker in honor of the fallen in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.
Mile Marker 0 to 10. Army. Col. Richard (Dick) McEvoy. I will start with the person that I know best. Richard (Dick) McEvoy, USMA class of 1980, was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor with DynCorp after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. He was the S-3 and I was the S-2. I also worked with him when he was the Commander of A Company. His company always got the highest scores in inspections and had astounding Esprit de Corps. I looked up to Dick and he was a role model as a calm, no nonsense commander that balanced mission and troops. He went on to train other soldiers as the Commander of the National Training Center. Here’s more about Col. McEvoy here McEvoy Memorial
Mile Marker 10 to 20. Navy. LAUREL BLAIR SALTON CLARK, M.D. (CAPTAIN, USN), NASA ASTRONAUT. Service is not confined to battle in wars, but also advancing the cause of freedom through the courageous act of exploration. Captain Clark perished in Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 while reentering the earth’s orbit. I remember it like it was yesterday since she perished near Palestine, Texas where the Space Shuttle broke apart upon reentry. She advanced the US Space mission by conducting over 80 experiments. She also had a distinguished career in the Navy prior to her mission. Her squadron won the Marine Attack Squadron of the year for its successful deployment. She represents the brave women that defend our country and advance the cause of freedom. Nearly 200 women have been KIA in Afghanistan and Iraq alone. Read more about Captain Clark here Captain Clark
Mile Marker 20 to 30. Coast Guard. Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Brandt Bruckenthal. The Coast Guard is a crucial branch of the Armed Services. They defend our country and embark on humanitarian missions that serve our country and advance our image. Petty Officer Bruckenthal was a damage controlman, who with two U. S. Navy sailors were killed in the line of duty while conducting maritime intercept operations in the North Arabian Gulf.
Bruckenthal and six other coalition sailors attempted to board a small boat near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal. As they boarded the boat, it exploded. Bruckenthal later died from the wounds he sustained in the explosion. Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guard member killed in action since the Vietnam War. His service as well as others in the Coast Guard such as our family friends the Lawrence’s advance the cause of freedom by defending our coasts. Read more here about Petty Officer Bruckenthal here Petty Officer Bruckenthal
Mile Marker 30 – 40. Marines. Ira Hayes. Ira Hayes was a Pima Native American who was immortalized both in the statue in Washington as he lifted the flag on Iwo Jima during WWII but also in one of my favorite songs by Johnny Cash called the Ballad of Ira Hayes linked here Ballad of Ira Hayes. Ira did not die on the hills of Iwo Jima but back in the country he defended. He represents all the Veterans that defend us with all their hearts, guts and souls but when they return we do not care for them adequately or honor their sacrifice. He is memorialized in a statue; let us remember him in our hearts and our actions as we care for the cause of the Native Americans.
Mile Marker 40 – 50. Air Force (Army Air Corps). The fallen of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber) who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They have been immortalized in the movie Red Tails and they went on to produce 3 Generals in the Air Force – Daniel James was appointed a brigadier general by President Nixon for keeping his cool in the face of Qaddafi’s troops, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the original commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first black general in the U.S. Air Force and Lucius Theus, who retired a major general after dedicating most of his 36-year career in the Air Force. They were one of the most decorated units in WW II and had an amazing record against the German Luftwaffe. This group of the first African American Aviators fought valiantly in WW II even though they did not have rights in the Jim Crow South. 66 of the 450 Tuskegee Airmen lost their lives in WW II, dying for a country that did not accept them in some areas. Read more about the importance of memorializing these great Americans and others on Memorial Day here in a letter from the Tuskegee Airman Institute President Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Letter.
Our journey of 50 miles on Memorial Day demonstrates the resilience and sacrifice of the men and women of this nation. Immigrant or native, white or black, men and women -each gave the ultimate sacrifice. The least we can do on this Memorial Day is to listen to one another with respect and support this fragile goal of Democracy! We are all brothers and sisters with one idea – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, the least we can do is to love and understand one another!
For the followers of my blog, this is the short form of this blog. The longer form is here. Long Form
My son Kyle turned me on to Tim Ferriss, the podcast king, a few years back. What I love about Tim and the stories he tells is he always strives to do something new, something impossible. Just to name two of the incredible things he has done is teach himself to swim a mile in one week and to become Jujitsu World Champ in a few months! You can listen to more of Tim here! Tim Blog
Another one of my favorite podcasters is Father Mike Schmitz. Recently he did a series on the definition and examples of courage. According to Father Mike, “Fear is not taken away, courage is given!” To paraphrase, you cannot be truly courageous without fear. Courage is striking out even when you have that dry pit in your stomach. Indeed, being fearless is a bit of a misnomer. You must drive through your fears to become a better person, a better you.
To be like Mike and to take on Tim, I started the practice a few years back to declare improbable goals and then set out a plan to accomplish them. I used these goals and the efforts to reach them to overcome fear, gain confidence, and lose weight. The best example of this is finishing a Kennedy Walk – 50 miles in 20 hours or less.
When I started my weight loss journey in 2015, walking 50 yards was hard enough. I was 358 lbs. with a distinct fear of throwing out my back even walking around the block. I tell you all this to understand just how impossible this goal seemed at the time. To me, it was just short of climbing Mt. Everest.
I needed something big to compel me forward, something with my back history was just a bit scary. I wanted to walk a long distance. I started to research on the internet what was equivalent to a marathon but for walkers. And I found it – the Kennedy Walk. The Kennedy walk was established by John F. Kennedy to demonstrate the fitness of the Armed Forces. It must be completed in 20 hours. Bobby Kennedy famously completed the walk one winter’s day in his loafers walking along the Potomac.
One key element for establishing a large goal was done, I now had the target. But I needed a second element – a reason. The reason in this case was more important than the goal. I wanted to honor a former colleague in the Army who was lost while serving this country in Afghanistan – Richard McEvoy and to raise money for returning vets. Dick was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together in the 3-60 Infantry Battalion. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. In honor of Dick, the walk served as a fund raiser for the Merivis Foundation, a non-profit that trains returning veterans in Austin for the IT industry and the Young Marines, a service group in Austin.
With a worthy cause and a goal firmly established, I set out to complete a 50 mile walk in 20 hours or less. But I could not do it all at once. So, I broke it out in sizeable chunks. I also picked a venue – the Lady Bird Lake trail in Austin – that could be walked 5 times to equal 50 miles. So, in the spring of 2016, I started to train for the first Annual McEvoy Memorial Kennedy Walk.
Every Saturday, I took an increasingly longer walk. Lady Bird Lake trail was the perfect venue. It is shaded much of the way, had adequate rest rooms and water and the city was immediately reachable. I started breaking up some of my longer walks by stopping at a restaurant or store to eat some healthy food/snacks (and ok a beer). Slowly, I went from 3 to 5 to 10 to 30 miles! I was ready.
I finished the 50 miles, McEvoy Memorial, Kennedy Walk on Nov. 5, 1986. Here is a video of me introducing it. Kennedy Walk
Here is me at the finish.
I made it in approximately 16 and a half hours. The drive to finish the walk gave me the impetus to reach the Lifetime distinction at Weight Watchers. As I walked along the path, I thought about how striving for big goals helped me to serve a great cause and to become smaller in weight and more confident in my health. I came up with these three major elements that commend the art of setting improbable goals.
Compelling Purpose to Move Forward – Setting a major goal that seems improbable gives you added motivation to stick with the day to day difficulty of staying on track. Once I set the goal, I could not let myself, the Veterans, and the memory of my colleague down. Life is indeed 90% perspiration, but you need the 10% of inspiration to compel you forward to a better you.
Decomposable into Smaller Chunks – You cannot achieve monumental goals in a day or a week (unless you are Tim Ferris who makes a living out of it). For ordinary people such as myself, the only way to achieve something big is to plan to break it down into smaller chunks. In this case, the selection of the Lady Bird Lake loop was the perfect venue.
A Cause Worthy of the Effort – When you are selecting an improbable goal, it is important to back it with a worthy cause. In this case, the cause was worthier that the effort. Our Veterans, both the fallen and the living, protect us and sacrifice for a greater purpose themselves – the freedom and liberty of the United States. 50 miles is not nearly enough to walk for sacrifices they have given.
On Memorial Day, I will do a five-part sequel to this blog with the words that I spoke at each 10-mile mark in 2016. Never forget our soldiers and service people this Memorial Day.
I learned from many leaders as I grew up through the ranks in the 9th Infantry Division, Motorized – whoo-ah (see my graduation photo from Airborne School in Fort Benning, below). I had the pleasure to talk to General Schwarzkopf as he pumped iron at the gym (he was strong!!!) and General Shalikashvilli (former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) when I was Deputy Division G3, but the best leader hands down in my book was Colonel Dolan.
I first served under Colonel Dolan when he was the Commander of 3/60 Infantry as his Battalion Military Intelligence Officer (oxymoron). I would like to relate two of the many things I learned from him with some brief stories:
Be confident in your area of expertise.
Lead Up Front
Be Confident, You are the Smartest Person in the Room!
Let me set the stage. I had just had a successful command as the Platoon Leader of a Tactical Intelligence Platoon. Although part of an Infantry Division, my platoon of Korean Linguists and military intelligence analysts were more akin to the doctor’s on MASH (the famous TV show), then the gung-ho ground soldier. They were more Hawkeye Pierce than GI Joe. I was now moving from being the officer of a platoon of unconventional but brilliant, Military Intelligence soldiers, to being the only non-Infantry Staff Officer for a battalion of battle hardened soldiers that just came back from a tour in the Mid-East. And the person that I had to provide intelligence on the enemy among other things had the reputation of being the toughest one of all – Colonel Dolan.
I was in Military intelligence reason for two reasons. The good reason is I had a reputation of being able to analyze intelligence and figure out what the other side was doing. The not so good reason is I am not as adept with typical military tasks such as firing a weapon, so being in the infantry now was a bit intimidating.
I was about to give my first briefing with the rest of the staff to Colonel Dolan and I was nervous. I had studied my presentation the night before and could tell you the number of people, the deployment tactics, and the weaponry of the enemy battalion down to the last detail. I also prepared a detailed briefing book. But when I got in front of Colonel Dolan, I became nervous and spoke too fast on those few occasions when my dialog was not punctuated by um’s and ah’s. But worse yet, in my eyes, I forgot one fact that I wanted to present. Altogether, not a good start.
Colonel Dolan called me in later the day and now I was scared. I felt certain that he found out about the one fact I missed. Instead, he started off by saying he read my briefing packet and thought it was A+. He then asked me a few questions that I responded to. Relieved, I was ready to go when the boss told me he had one more thing to say. “Lt. Grier that briefing book and the content of your briefing were excellent, but the whole time you were speaking you acted like I was going to fire you. You are the smartest person in the room when it comes to Military Intelligence. So let me be clear. The only time I will fire you is if you do not act confident when you are the smartest person in the room. Now go out and do great things.”
These words are still ingrained in my mind more than 25 years later and I try to remember them each time I need to give an important presentation. Many of us discount how well prepared we are in our area of expertise when we need to manage up or speak to leadership. We try to remember every detail instead of being confident in the knowledge ingrained in our mind. The bottom line is each of us our paid to be an expert in something. Those things that you are expert in don’t be scared of missing a fact. Do not hug a tree and miss the forest. Be confident. You are the smartest person in the room.
Lead Up Front
The commander of a Battalion is sometimes affectionately know as the Old Man or Woman. That is primarily a term of endearment, believe it or not, and is based on respect for the knowledge and prowess they gained over the years. Only secondarily is it based on age.
Colonel Dolan was the quintessential Old Man. He proved his prowess on the battlefield where he was awarded a Silver Star. He was also old in terms of Army standards having just turned 40. Due to this milestone, the Brigade commander made him get a physical before he could run in the Brigade run. This did not sit well with the Old Man much to our chagrin as you will see.
The day after he got his physical, we had a report by the equivalent of the battalion HR lead that a bunch of the enlisted guys and an officer or two did not do well on the practice Army Physical Readiness Test. The APRT is the equivalent of a java certification for a developer. You had to pass it to do your job.
The day of the Brigade run arrived bright and early. I liked Brigade runs, normally (this was in the days when I myself was not an old man). The only hard thing is that being an MI officer and the only non-Infantry officer on the staff I got the duties that the Infantry staff officers did not want. In this case, I had “fall out” monitoring duty. This meant I had to circle around the four companies in our battalion (each with about 150 people) the whole time we were running. I had to report to the Old Man how the companies were hanging. Usually this was not too hard because I was many pounds lighter then and a great deal faster. Also, Colonel Dolan kept a steady pace and he usually was not so fast.
But today was a different story. A perfect storm had hit with Colonel Dolan’s physical and the report of soldiers being out of shape. The old man was out to prove a point. He began at a brisk pace and proceeded from there. On my first lap around the battalion, the Captain of C Company yelled out, “Hey, Don what is the Old Man doing?” I said, “I don’t know but let me check”.
As I ran around the battalion, some of the more out of shape soldiers were getting winded. I myself was breathing hard especially since I was running double the distance. Back at the front of the battalion, I told the Old Man that several of the company commanders had asked what was going on. All he said with a face of sheer determination was “The Go Devils (our nickname) are meant to go fast”.
So on a subsequent lap around the battalion as I was gasping for breath, I told Captain Gerras that I did not know what the Old Man was doing. He yelled to me “Tell him to slow down, a quarter of the battalion is falling out”. I yelled back, “Sir, you are welcome to tell him. I am just trying to make it back around.”
I made it back up front just as we were nearing the gate of the parade field. Now custom is you stay in formation behind the battalion in front of you. Not today. Colonel Dolan decided to pass the Second Battalion! He yelled Go Devils Coming Through and he passed Second Battalion in a dead sprint. Colonel Dolan asked me how the battalion did. I told him one gasp at a time “Not …..(Gasp) ….all ….made….. it, but ….there …… will…… not……. be………anyone…..failing…… the ……. APRT … any …. time … soon. “
And those gasping words rang true. The Battalion got the point and for weeks all the soldiers could talk about was how fast the Old Man had sprinted. And he still had it!
The lesson in leadership is that sometimes the Old Man or Woman has to show the team how it is done. In the Army, being fit is a work necessity. Colonel Dolan showed the team how it was done. He led by example. This does not mean that every time when a team member needs an extra boost to complete a task, the leader has to do it for them. No! What it means is that at some critical junctures it is important that the Old Man or Woman lead the way and show the prowess that got them to the position in the first place. It is not enough to manage a spreadsheet. You need to lead up front and pass the competition. Go Accenture! Lead the way!
When losing weight, you must answer a series of questions and make choices on a daily basis. Examples:
Should I eat that cheeseburger? No
Should I track the cheeseburger that I was not supposed to eat? Yes so I can keep my habit and know where I stand.
Should I get up and go to the gym at 5 AM? Of course, etc. etc.
These are the type of granular questions that you must answer each day as you proceed on your weight loss journey. Besides these day to day questions however, there are more fundamental questions that will drive you as you change your habits and get healthy. Chiefly these – Why and Why Not?
My Weight Watcher’s lead has a saying: “You must keep your why nearby!”. What this means is you should have a compelling reason that drives you as you make the daily difficult choices to get better. Indeed, you need motivation when you begin waking up at 5 am for a walk or turning away from your daily cheeseburger,
My “whys” have changed over time. When I first started out, I had two Whys:
Treat and improve my health condition brought on by my weight gain.
Lose sufficient weight prior to my 30th West Point reunion so I did not look totally out of place.
To keep my Why Nearby, I made the following Vision Board with reminders of my motivation to move forward. It was on my phone so I could look at it instead of a Quarter Pounder.
The pictures all relate to my two Whys. At the top is my Class Motto, then clockwise are the following:
A picture of my parents who supported me through West Point and also both had a health problem which I inherited
A picture of me and a West Point classmate when I was peak weight
Closer to the reunion with the new workout clothes my youngest gave me.
My family which I wanted to get healthy so I could stay around
My Firstie picture
My company mates from C-1.
I looked at this each day and made it to my first goal! But I still had a way to go to get to my suggested weight for my height. That is when I moved to my next critical question “Why Not?”.
Your Why Not is to do something that you would never have thought to do. It needs to be big to push you forward. My Why Not was to perform a Kennedy Walk.
A Kennedy Walk was implemented by President Kennedy to inspire fitness in the military. The requirement is to walk 50 miles in 20 or less hours. Since I had begun to be able to walk 3 miles comfortably, so as Bobby Kennedy said Some say WHY, I said WHY NOT! (As aside, Bobby Kennedy was the first one to do a Kennedy Walk in his suit and loafers no less!) With this Why Not, I began walking daily and 10 to 20 miles every weekend (with a beer or two thrown in). Then in November 2016, I completed the walk in 17 hours. Here is the picture of me finishing.
One last thing before I close. A Why Not can also be a Why. That was indeed my case here. The impetus for this walk was to honor and raise money for vets and in particular a colleague that was killed in Afghanistan. I thought of him and all that support our country.
So there you have it Know your Why and Say Why Not!
One of the greatest influences on my life was from my first employer, Captain Barber and the town I grew up in Crosswicks, NJ. Both taught me lessons that I follow today both in my career and as I strive to live a healthy life. These lessons on fairness, honest business dealings, and how to live a healthy life I honor and try to follow each day.
Captain John Ronald Barber was born in 1891 in the town of Fairmont, Minnesota and died in 1980 in the town of Crosswicks, NJ. He was a Captain in the Navy where he served as a dental surgeon. I have included a picture of his name from the Naval records of 1914 below. I include this tidbit of knowledge both to honor his service, but as an Army guy because I learned so much from a Navy Captain!
I met him in Crosswicks when I was 11 years old after reading a local advertisement for help maintaining his property and gardens. I answered the ad because I wanted to buy a Sears 10 Speed Bike. Little did I know that beyond getting money for the bike, I would get so much more!
I walked up to the door of his house and cranked his door bell (more on that later). At the time, Captain Barber was approaching his 80’s but still was the epitome of health. I asked him about the ad and we began to settle on the contractual arrangement. I can still remember the words of our deal as they were yesterday. Captain Barber said, “I will pay you a penny a minute, a penny a minute I say. You should pay me a penny a minute for all the lessons you will learn”. Little did I know at the time how true those words were!
The next day, I started a 2+ years working relationship with Captain Barber for 60 cents an hour. Sounds like not a lot for those younger than 50 but that was a good amount of money in the day and I soon earned enough money to get that Sears Bike (I have to admit I am sad to see the fiscal issues with Sears currently). Here are the lessons that I learned from this great man.
How to stay healthy – Captain Barber was an organic gardener and follower of homeopathic medicine way before both were in vogue. He lived to be 88 and was still trimming his tress in his eighties! When I started on my weight loss journey where I lost over 170 lbs I remembered some of the lessons from Captain Barber. Chiefly these three:
A varied, vegetarian lifestyle is a key component of health and maintaining your weight. Captain Barber grew all assortments of vegetables in his garden. He had the standards in his 1+ acre garden – tomatoes, corn, strawberries; but also some not so ordinary like asparagus, rutabagas, grapes (for wine), and castor beans (more on this later). He ate many of these items from his garden on a daily basis. The first time I ate asparagus was at Captain Barber’s table. When I began my weight loss journey this became one of my key staples!
Captain Barber was an organic farmer. He had a large compost pile that I was required to turn on a weekly basis with a pitchfork. I had to climb a ladder to get into the compost pile that was staked out by large tree logs he had harnessed together. In addition, there was no weed and feed in his garden. On the contrary, I and he got on our knees and pulled out the weeds. I used to be terrified to do the strawberries because sometimes the weeds and young strawberries.
The way to stay healthy is to be active. I did not work in the garden alone. Each day. Captain Barber would be out and about tending to his garden. I still remember in amazement as he got up in a tree and trimmed down branches.
Homeopathic Medicine. I do not recall Captain Barber being sick. He not only ate well but made his own medicine and essential oils. I remember tending his Castor bean plants and he took a teaspoon of Castor oil as well as other oils daily. He was the first person that I knew who used homeopathic medicine.
Be fair in your business dealings. Captain Barber set a fair wage (for the time) and settled with you on a daily basis. He asked you to prepare the invoice before leaving and calculated the work down to the quarter of hour. You then had to calculate you wages at 60 cents an hour. He was fair but stuck to his guns. I remembered one time when my brother who also worked for Captain Barber tried to give himself a raise. Instead of 60 cents he used 90 cents. He handed in his invoice and Captain Barber said it did not seem right. My brother said he deserved a raise. Here is the rest of the conversation. Brother – I need a raise. Captain Barber (feigning hearing loss) – A blaze. Yes the sun was a blazing out there! Brother – No Captain Barber, I want a raise! Captain Barber – You want praise. Well you done well my son! Brother – No Captain Barber – a raise, I want a raise. Captain Barber – Oh a raise. No you can’t have one. We agreed on 60 cents. It actually went on a bit longer than that but you get the picture. Captain Barber made a fair deal and you could not pull one over one on him.
Do it the easy way! Captain Barber was always driving us to improve. He would look at how you were doing something and offer suggestions on how to do things more efficient. One time I was raking the leaves. Captain Barber came by and said let me show you the easy way! He then showed me a different way to hold the rake that was more efficient for him. Although I did not adopt it exactly, I swapped up the way I did the rake and co-opted some of the information that Captain Barber gave. What was great about Captain Barber was he saw how I modified his style and also adopted my technique. Unlike others more senior, he was willing to learn as well as teach even at Eighty.
When it rains, take care of the Troops! I was hired to help Captain Barber with his garden but sometimes like life it inevitably rains. Instead of sending me home without the money I wanted for my bike or missing an opportunity, he would teach me something useful that would also help him. One thing that he taught me is how to correctly polish silverware. We polished his silverware when it suddenly rained hard. How did this come handy? When I was at West Point, I had to polish my belt buckle and the my parade brass. I may not have been a great shoe shiner but I never got a demerit on my brass. In addition, he also taught me how to tie navy knots and paid me for the opportunity. He could have sent me home when it rained but he taught me something!
Share your life. One of the greatest honors that I ever received is when Captain Barber invited me to a horse show. He loved horses and for that day instead of working in the garden, he took me to a horse show in Central Jersey. It was quite an experience and he treated me to lunch. In so doing, he rewarded me for my hard work but more importantly, he allowed me into his life and to understand what he loved and held dear.
Have Fun! Now back to the hand cranked door bell. I knew Captain Barber as my boss, a mentor and a hero. My friends who did not work with him knew him as the popcorn chef on Halloween. In Crosswicks, we had the greatest Halloweens and holidays in general. On Halloween, we would go to Mrs. Bumbera’s cauldron to get hot cider, the Caldwell’s to get scared out of our wits by their haunted house, the Community House for the annual costume contest, and Captain Barber’s house for organic popcorn. Here is the ritual. You would knock on the door and he would come out in a big chef hat and say “Crank the bell, crank the bell” and close the door. You would then crank the bell, and he would come back out with his chef’s hat and say do you want one scoop or two scoops of popcorn (it was organic!). Most people would say two scoops that he would then promptly dump directly in your Halloween bag. Then with a twinkle in his eye, he would say do you want butter! For the uninitiated, they soon get a ladle of butter in their bag! He had a sense of humor and I do suppose that was a hold out to his Minnesotan roots (married into Minnesotan family, they put butter on everything).
I listed six lessons and a few corollaries that I learned from the amazing Captain Barber – the first organic farmer I knew, an Octogenarian that climbed trees, an honest business partner, and a mentor for life. These are just a small sample. It is important for the young to learn from the old and an 11 year old to earn money for his bike and lessons for life.
Last night when I researched a bit more on Captain Barber, I found out that he was born and buried in Minnesota. It all makes sense now why I connected with him and my father in law Cal Hoehn. When you are close to the earth, you are close to life and all that makes us human. In honor of Captain Barber, I left the below virtual flower and remembrance. Captain Barber I forget you not! Let us remember those mentors and our hometowns that painted out futures.
On the morning of July 7, 1976, 119 women joined the Corps of Cadets, establishing the first class of females at The United States Military Academy at West Point. It was one of the smartest moves that the United States Military Academy ever made! The impact of that class and those early pioneers such as my classmates that joined in 1981 have left this key institution stronger, smarter and more devoted to mission. In 2017, West Point appointed the first African-American female First Captain following in the footsteps set before her. Congratulations Cadet Simone Askew pictured below with a further description in this link Go Army!
I am not saying that everything is perfect in USMA and the Army with regards to gender diversity, but the improvements on the Academy and the Army have been immense. I would like to touch upon two things that impacted me directly. First, with the switch of USMA to a coed institution, a lot of the destructive, hazing and other institutional practices born of machismo and nothing more were transformed or eliminated. That does not mean the Academy got easier. To the contrary, the practices and the rituals became more purpose-built to mold modern military officers. The focus went from purely physical feats of bravado to those of mental and physical endurance. The second thing was that there was an infusion of female officers as tactical officers and professors. Indeed, two of the four tactical officers that I served under while at the Academy where female – Captain Sasarak and Captain Hayes. Captain Sasarak was a terror on inspections, an awesome role model, and helped me get a coveted assignment to Korea for my Junior Summer. Captain Hayes could leave us all in the dust carrying a 70 lbs. ruck. They brought a female perspective, shorn of the false bravado, but ever the bit as tough and demanding as any male Army officer. They both shaped me in a positive manner for my role as an Army officer. I salute and thank both of them!
If you want to read more on the Power that Diversity brings read these related blogs.
One of the greatest lessons that I have learned from Weight Watchers is “to keep your Why, nearby!” I had a very specific “Why” in 2016 that helped to propel me and others to better health and service. In August of that year, in honor of one of my former Army colleagues, I and others from Accenture decided to do a walk to raise money for Veterans. But this was not your normal fun run or walk. To honor the huge sacrifice of all Veterans lost in battle, the only fitting tribute was a Kennedy Walk.
John F. Kennedy introduced this 50 mile walk in 20 hours. People still do it every year along the Potomac. My company Accenture sponsored the walk to support the Merivis Foundation and the young Marines of the Capital Area. The icon that you see on my blog is me at the end of the first Kennedy Walk. The picture below is of some of the participants for the most recent walk on Veterans Day, 2017 (this year I switched it up and did 200 pushups instead of 5O miles).
Here is the introduction on why we had the walk. The picture of John Kennedy was given to me on my 20th birthday from my roommate at the Academy.
If you are a Veteran or further interested in donating, here is a link to Merivis Foundation that trains Veterans for positions in IT.