Memorial Day 2023

Military ceremonies remember fallen comrades.
-USDOD Photo by SGT Mark Hayward

George Washington said something like you can tell much about a nation by the way they treat their veterans. Sadly, with less than 25% of our population qualified to serve, and less than 1% stepping up to serve, most Americans have no idea about the sacrifices required to protect liberty. Twice each year, I divert from my usual talks on leadership to discuss veteran topics. Those occur on Memorial and Veterans Days. I feel, as a combat veteran, it is my obligation to share some thoughts on veteran issues during this time. Too many citizens offhandedly thank veterans here and there for their service without truly understanding the sacrifice. I hope each essay brings a measure of understanding for those support our troops but never served.

On Memorial Day you will hear combat veterans use the phrase, “All gave some; some gave all.” How do you give all you may ask? Every veteran contributes to the cause in some way. It does not matter whether you serve as an Infantryman, a fighter pilot, a safety officer on a carrier, unit clerk, or truck driver; every person has an important position in the military. Each thinks, and rightly so at times, their job is the most important. You see without the supply clerk to load the truck, and without the driver to drive the truck, or the MP to guide and secure the truck, the ammunition would never arrive at the firing battery, foxhole, or airfield for the cannon cockers, grunts, and flyboys to close with and destroy the enemy. Someone has to make sure all these people are paid and medically ready. Somebody has to tell their story. Every Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Coastie, and Airman is potentially a target for the enemy. As you can see everyone gives something to the cause. None are ever sure when they will be asked to give everything, including their lives, to the cause. All are at risk. Members of every branch and career field have died serving their country. That is why we have Memorial Day, to remember their sacrifices.

Service members do lots of different jobs in all kinds of terrain, weather, and environments.
-Photo by author

Not all combat related deaths occur on the battlefield. With today’s modern medicine, and forward deployed combat lifesavers, combat injuries are more survivable. Those injuries are still traumatic, preventing some individuals from fully recovering. Many die earlier in life than would be expected. Those deaths are not counted as combat deaths, even though the injuries that caused those deaths happened on the battlefield. We must remember them as well.

Not all military injuries are visible. Traumatic brain injury came into the spotlight as a result of the Global War on Terror. Like other combat injuries, this one also has the potential to shorten service members’ lives in two ways. The first is the lingering injury causes the death, as it may never fully heal. Additionally, those suffering from TBI may turn to another veteran cause of death, suicide.

On an average day, 22 service members and veterans commit suicide. I saw a statistic over the winter that claimed more service members have died from suicide since 2001 than died in all the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. You’ll note, there is no reference because I could not find it in time for my deadline. However, 22 suicides per day spread out over 22 years comes out to over 170,000 deaths. Iraq and Afghanistan account for under 10,000 combat deaths. I believe the number without having to find the original reference.

Military operations occur around the clock in peace and war, increasing the danger of death.
-Photo by author

Veteran suicide remains a big problem. Learn ways you can help a veteran in crisis. Recognize when someone is struggling. For a long time, the Army used the ACE model to help service members remember how to render mental health first aid. Ask the person if they are thinking of killing or hurting themselves. I am assured by mental health professionals that your asking will not put the idea in their head, so ask. Call for help. Depending on the circumstances, you should call 911 if there is already a life-threatening situation. If the veteran is expressing suicide ideation, call 877-4AID-VET ((877) 424-3838), or 988 the nationwide suicide hotline. E stands for escort, which means staying with the person in crisis until you arrive at an appropriate treatment facility, or the help you called for arrives. Following these simple steps will make you a hero for our heroes.

As the unofficial start of summer arrives, take time to gather with family and friends to attend a Memorial Ceremony or Parade. Really look at the names of the real people who appear on those war monuments. Each was a son, daughter, brother, sister, father, or mother and certainly someone’s battle buddy. If you thank a vet, ask an appropriate question about his or her military service, such as, “What was the best part of serving?”, “What is your best memory?”, “Why did you decide to serve?”, or something similar. Then listen to the story and ask suitable follow-up questions. If you are particularly attentive, you might actually hear things veterans rarely tell others. It will help you understand the saying “All gave some; some gave all.”

A Decade of Writing

Ten years and 135 posts later, some thoughts and reflections…

Welcome to my blog.” That was how I started my first post ten years ago. You are still welcome here. You will find much more to read than was available then. Browse around. You will note that early on, my posts were more frequent and shorter. As I developed as a writer, I learned two things. I wanted to write in greater depth on each topic than 500 words, my target for each post. I also wanted to post less often, devoting more time to each subject. When I started, I alternated between a post on leadership, and one on developing training for adults. About the time I started writing longer, I realized those who counseled focusing on one thing were right, so I focused on leadership. This allows me to do things like create a series of essays on a single topic. The introduction and conclusion each stand alone as a thesis. The material in between is available for those seeking to dive deeper.

When I started writing, I had over 30 years of leading police officers and Soldiers with some volunteer experience. I’ve since retired my police leadership roles, and will soon retire from the military with a lifetime of experience. I worked with great leaders all over the world in many nations. My work now is leading in the nonprofit sector now. I serve as an Executive Director for one nonprofit, and serve on the board of directors of two others. The principles of leadership apply equally whether leading Soldiers, negotiating with partner nation military leaders, working with legislators, mentoring young police officers, developing a vacant lot into a memorial park, or leading a multidisciplinary team that responds to cases of child abuse. The tactics for each situation change, but the principals are universal. The essays you find here are all based on those universal leadership principals.

If you have been reading my posts for a long time, or this is your first, thank you. Please enter your email in the subscribe field, and my newest monthly posts appear in your inbox. While I may return at some point to publishing more than monthly, I promise I will not sell your email address to others or spam you with frequent, unwanted sales pitches for products or services. My web host offers ways to unsubscribe if you change your mind and no longer want to receive quality leadership lessons from someone tested in combat. You have nothing to lose.

Doing series allows me the ability to plan my writing better, allows me to learn more about the topics, and present information on those topics better. This post interrupts my series on the Three Pitch Rule for communicating as a leader. While I will apologize for the interruption, this seems like a good point in life to stop and reflect on my writing over the last ten years. Reflection is an important leadership and personal growth habit.

The series on communication continues in June. There are three segments remaining, using text and social media in June, communicating with that app on your smartphone that allows you to make voice or video calls, and the wrap reviewing how to use more than one means to communicate with others improving your effectiveness.

I will start a series on strategic planning and execution. Successful organization do more than create strategic plans; they execute those plans and change to meet current needs. Creating an effective strategic plan is not easy. I think I am pretty good at it, but at the end of every cycle, I find how little I really know. Each plan is better than that last. As Eisenhower once said something like, “Plans are nothing, but the planning process is everything.” While there is lots of truth to that thought, plans and planning are useless without action. Strategic thinking, and action are the two things that cause change.

Change is a constant for all leaders. Without change, there really is no need for leaders. Strategic planning ensures your organization remains relevant when everything around it changes. Even if you want your organization to remain unchanged, you need a plan to maintain stability in the face of change.

Few people like change. I offer the following thought on change: would you rather be known in five years as a leader with five years of experience because you grew and changed, or someone with one year experience, five years in a row?

Please continue to read, learn, grow. I always look forward to your feedback in the comments and the contacts. Note that I try to read the real messages in between the tons of spam, but it might be a few days before I see your message. Thanks for your patience.

I enjoyed writing for you over the last ten years. Thanks for reading. I look forward to continuing to provide quality, personally written lessons on leadership, i.e. not ChatGPT. Most of all, I hope readers take something from each essay and implement one thing in their leadership practice. It’s been said that leadership is the most important thing on the battlefield. It is also the most important thing in every other walk of life. Be bold, try something from one of these lessons, learn what works as you lead from the front.

All photos by the author.

(c) 2023 Christopher St. Cyr