Marcus Luttrell: Lone Survivor and True American Hero

I had the honor of listening to Marcus Luttrell, the “Lone Survivor”, along with other American heroes in the Jacksonville, FL area when his “Patriot Tour” came to town this past Wednesday, March 12, 2014. I was looking forward to this event, but when a good friend could not make it due to a family member’s illness that forced him to leave town I almost didn’t go. Graciously, he gave his ticket to a friend of mine and we went.

I had several reasons for wanting to attend. First, I wanted to hear first-hand Luttrell’s experiences as a Navy SEAL especially the event that led to what became the movie “Lone Survivor”. Second, I wanted to physically see the man who went through hell and back defending what we American’s treasure. Third, I was hoping to personally thank Luttrell for his service to our country. I was fortunate to accomplish two out of three of my goals.

Before Marcus Luttrell took the stage, other heroes spoke about their personal experiences. The one thing they all had in common was their undeniable devotion to the United States of America and what it stands for. They are unapologetic, loyal, and incredible human beings. Some lost limbs, others lost loved ones, and others have now devoted their civilian lives to helping other veterans. They also have selflessness in common; they continue to give for this country after leaving much on battlefields all over the world.

When Luttrell walked on the stage, honestly, I was expecting a man who was somewhat confident in his presentation possibly bordering on arrogance. However, he was far from cocky; quite the opposite actually. He seemed just like any other guy you would bump into at a ball game or at the store. He spoke immediately without waiting for the crowd’s adulation. He looked into the crowd like a man who was nervous and out-of-place. It was almost like he didn’t completely understand why everyone was there to see him.

While interjecting a joke or two into his presentation, he discussed the fateful mission that has become known around the world. Ordered to hunt down a wanted terrorist in a dangerous section of Afghanistan, he and three comrades, Navy SEALs trained like no other soldier anywhere, experienced what no men should ever be asked to. He told us the real story of what happened on that mission, and pointed out what really happened versus what the film illustrated. He said the main reason for the differences were two-fold; first, it was way too graphic, and second, to save the families of the dead soldiers the horror of watching what truly happened to those men.

I can honestly say that I have never been so engrossed in a dialogue than I was listening to Marcus. The candor, humility, and absolute pain in his words carved a place within my memory that will never be erased. The detail he explained with every aspect of that mission was mind-boggling. His wounds and the ability to keep going; to survive. To continue fighting. To complete the mission until it was clearly lost, and he still found a way to go on.

I have a special place in my heart for all current and veteran military members. The sacrifices on and off the battlefields are incredible and in my opinion undervalued. I wish our government would do far more for those that serve or served with honor. After experiencing The Patriot Tour, that place in my heart is now much larger.

I can never feel sorry for myself for any type of struggle I may have or will experience; all I have to do is remind myself of Marcus Luttrell and other great American heroes. What they have dealt with trumps any and all bad things I can think of, and my life has not been a bed of roses. Veterans have always been a source of inspiration for me, but now they are true role models thanks to Marcus Luttrell’s courage to share with us all what he and his brothers went through while serving our country.

If you have a chance to see The Patriot Tour, then do not hesitate to do so. At least do yourself a favor and read his book or see the movie “Lone Survivor”. I cannot convince everyone to respect the men and women of the Armed Forces and/or Veterans, but every chance I get I will act in a way that shows the respect they deserve. I hope everyone finds their way to show that respect. We owe them everything we have. They are the best that the United States of America has to offer. They are the United States of America.

God bless you all.

Marcus Luttrell during the Patriots Tour in Orange Park, FL

Marcus Luttrell during the Patriots Tour in Orange Park, FL

My Son Is My Life; My Other Kids are My Lifeline

The annual event. The Super Bowl party. Yes, I look forward to it every year. I love football—always have and always will. During the season, I watch as many games as I can. College or pro—I don’t care. Hell, I even help coach my son’s football team.

If football was taken away from me, I don’t know what I would do.

Last night I was reminded why I love the Super Bowl. Recently, I turned 48 years old, and honestly I’ve been spending time looking in the mirror staring down the barrel of 50 years of age. Plenty of reflection looking back on the past and looking forward to the future. Emotions on both ends of the spectrum have been deeply explored.

Then the Super Bowl party arrived.

Soon after our arrival—my wife, son, and yours truly, my “other” kids arrived.

Instant bliss.

I have strong feelings for my brothers’ kids. Not blood-brothers, mind you, but brothers nonetheless. He has four kids, two boys and two girls, that I love like they are my own. I haven’t seen them in quite some time. I will not use their names, but first was the oldest.

Recently selected for the National Honor Society, I couldn’t wait to give her a big hug and kiss. She’s not my daughter, but she is my “daughter”. I held back tears but hugged her for a long time. I am so proud of her. She is nothing short of spectacular in all facets of life.

Then came my brother’s doppelganger. He is almost as tall as his father, perhaps a few inches shorter. He is going to be a lady-killer. Super kid, too. For a very long time I felt he may have to be the son I would never have. Regardless, I still consider him my “son”.

Then the little ones. One was celebrating a birthday, while the other had his trademark awesome smile on his face the entire night. I am an introvert, but these four kids infused energy that I needed.

Don’t get me wrong, my son Jake is my LIFE. He is No. 1 and that will NEVER change.

Unfortunately, there was a time in my life when I had about given up on having kids of my own. These four kids were going to be mine by default. Yes, I love and care for them that much.

Usually, when a game especially the Super Bowl is a blow-out like last night’s game, I want to head home early. Last night was a different story. I needed to be around those kids. I had my son Jake sitting next to me at times when he wasn’t buried in his iPad after losing interest in the Toilet Bowl, but I also had my “other” kids near me at all times.

I thought of the times I actually held the oldest in my arms dreaming that she was actually mine. Now she is bordering on adulthood with college and a extraordinarily bright future ahead of her.

Age 50? Whatever, dude.

I have an incredible wife, an incredible son, and four children from a different mother and father. Close friends cannot be manufactured, but they can be nurtured and appreciated. And yes—their kids are my kids.

The good news is—they know and accept it.

The Dreaded 2014 New Year’s Resolution List: I’m Not Scared Of Mine

Image

 

I know what you’re thinking: yeah, I’m reading what you’re thinking, but everyone says they’re going to do things to start off the new year and never accomplish a thing. Normally, I would agree, but I would argue that most of the things that land on that dreaded list costs money, and that plays a huge part in the chances of being successful. Seriously, what (without doing “official” research) are the typical resolutions people make to start off the year: lose weight, quit smoking, eat healthier, exercise, and improve oneself in some physical and/or professional way.

Well, that’s all well and good, and the intentions are mostly good to start off with, but when money gets involved to whatever degree, combined with time management it usually spells disaster for the vast majority of people that endeavor to do these things. Therefore, I am going to simplify my list this year while leaving my wallet in my pocket. I want to focus on those things that we know we should do, but for whatever reason the ball is dropped and overlooked too many times.

First, I am going to embrace my introverted personality. Yes, instead of doing things I am suppose to do that takes me out of my zone, I am going to focus on what energizes me to be better for my family, friends, and co-workers. For years, I’ve felt compelled to interact with people for personal and professional reasons even though I had absolutely no interest in doing so. This may sound cold and callous, but that is not my intent. Trust me, I love being around people, but when it’s time to do so, and not when I feel I must. There is a huge difference. A major “Eureka” moment happened for me this past year when I watched on TED a talk courtesy of Susan Cain titled “The Power of Introverts” http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html. It opened my eyes and caused a smile from ear-to-ear. Finally, someone identified what I had been feeling for a very long time, and articulated it in a way that is understandable by most.

Second, I am going to smile more especially when walking past a stranger. When smiles are no longer free I will no longer want to live on this planet. I understand that some folks are shy and may have a multitude of things on their minds, and I cannot control those things that I have nothing to do with, but if I can smile and possibly force someone to smile back and/or improve their mood if even for a milli-second then it is well worth it. I am a happy person and sharing a smile is free and easy so why not do it more?

Third, I am going to leverage the things I love – my family, my friends, reading, and listening to music. Spending time with my wife and son is of most importance, and realizing that this area of my life is not in any way in bad shape, but finding ways to do it even more should be rather easy. My friends – well that’s a different story. Those close friends that are near and dear to my heart are spread out all over the country, so spending time in their presence may be challenging, but with Skype and other available technologies, I am going to at a minimum pick up a telephone (okay, a cell phone) if not find out what’s best for them to communicate. If I can travel to see them affordably then I will do so. Anyone that spends any amount of time around me will tell you I ALWAYS have a laptop or tablet in my possession and utilize such devices all the time due to my unquenchable thirst for information. I love to learn and have knowledge and it’s free to access. Lastly, I cannot live without music. Let me say that again – I cannot LIVE without music. If my body has a fuel need it’s music and I am going to ensure the tank is always near full this year.

Last but not least, I am going to leverage MOOCs. What’s a MOOC? It stands for Massive Open Online Courses, and the first one I am going to take is offered by Northwestern University entitled “Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences For Your Organization”. I love to write and improving my ability to create content for my employer and myself can only better my personal brand. Best of all, the class is absolutely FREE. 

So there is my list and it is relatively painless. I can leave my wallet in my pocket and simply invest time to improve myself and the experience those around me have. Most of all, I am going to enjoy myself while doing it all.

Christmas 2013: Cherishing My Son’s Continued Awakening

Talk about feeling the spirit of Christmas steer my son in the right direction! This morning at exactly 6:55AM EST, he ran into our bedroom and jumped into our bed to proclaim that Santa Claus had delivered presents. Waking both my wife and me up from deep slumber, we slowly crawled out of bed as he patiently waited with a huge smile on his face. He clearly remembered the rule: he would not go upstairs until we were with him and ready to go. It took about 15 minutes before we started up the stairs.

Immediately upon entering the room, we were expecting his excitement to overcome and compel him to begin ripping open his presents. On the contrary, he first reached for a present that he made for my wife and me. It was a handwritten journal of his wishes and appreciation of what the season means and had given him. He ends stating that the best part of the season is both giving and spending it with us, i.e. his mother and me.

That’s my boy.

As he began opening his presents from both Santa and us, after each one he either said thank you to Santa or us while holding the present close to his chest. Toys, games, and clothes—he truly appreciated everything he received. He smiled, winked, laughed, and appreciated every single gift.

I am proud of my son for so many reasons, and it seems that every day he says or does something that surprises me. Today was no exception—his actions and reactions proved the goodness of his heart. Yes, I am subjective but promise I am not exaggerating. He is such a great kid. He is my son. He is a blessing and gift that I do not or will ever deserve.

That being said, blessed am I to have him as my son. He is capable of asking questions that spark debate and thought at such a young age. Today we spoke of religion and watched television programs that spoke of Jesus Christ and his teachings, struggles, and crucifixion. One question he asked that led to a moment of pause: “Why do people not love and follow His teachings especially since he died for us?” Yes, he asked that question at age 10. I answered simply “I don’t know”. Another great question: “Why do some not love and honor Mary since she is the mother of Christ? Aren’t we supposed to respect any and all mothers? She especially?”.

These are the type of questions and debates we participate in almost daily. You have no idea how much I enjoy it! It seems that he is continuing an awakening of conscious that I am so happy to facilitate. He doesn’t ask the what but the why and I love it. Great ideas stem from asking the question “why”, and it seems that he has learned it at an early age.

Today was a special day for the obvious and personal reasons. Perhaps it was just another day in my son’s physical, mental, and spiritual development. One thing is for certain: if we continue to witness days as astonishing as today we will continue to see awesome examples of excellence courtesy of my son.

The Last Christmas Believing in Santa Claus

My son Jake turned 10 years old back in November, and my wife and I have worried that soon he will discontinue believing in Santa Claus. Yes, we know it is inevitable, and we already know of one good friend that understands St. Nicholas is a mere fantasy, but we enjoy having Santa Claus as a big part of the Christmas season. So far so good; he is planning on having cookies and a glass of milk waiting for Santa tomorrow night, and carrots for his reindeer, too. Still….

We have discussed how we will have the unavoidable conversation when the time comes, and I know what I will say. It’s easy for me because I do believe in Santa Claus. Yes, I really do. I know that sounds silly to the vast majority of people who think they know better, but to me the spirit of Christmas must maintain the presence of St. Nick. It’s the mindset, the context, and the attitude of the season. I believe in the meaning of the season, and what it holds for us all that celebrate it. Miracles happen every Christmas—small and large—and in my mind it’s all because of Santa Claus.

What about Jesus you ask? Of course He is the reason for the holiday, and the reason we celebrate it. For children who have yet to completely comprehend the words of John 3:16, it is Santa Claus that most children focus on.

I also believe that Santa Claus has many images that are only limited by a child’s imagination. The suit Santa wears is the only constant; perhaps, other similarities are also part of the conscious, but does it really matter what he specifically looks like?

As we tucked our son into bed tonight, he had a huge smile on his face knowing that he has been a very good boy and Santa will reward him for his actions and behavior. I hope he continues to “believe”; as far as I’m concerned, he does and always will exist. I will allow my son to make up his own mind and choose to believe or disbelieve, but a father can hope.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I hope Santa is kind to you, and if you do receive “coal” in your stocking, then get to work changing his opinion of you. Those around you will greatly appreciate it.

Florida Gators Are No Longer Near or On the Top of the SEC in College Football

Clearly, Muschamp enjoys looking like an idiot.

Clearly, Muschamp enjoys looking like an idiot.

The college football season ended yesterday in disgrace for the Florida Gators when their cross-state rivals FSU marched in to “The Swamp” in Gainesville and lay a beat-down on them that everyone expected. Once upon a short-time ago, the Florida Gators were not only battling for SEC championships, but usually fighting for poll position to compete in the BCS Championship game. In 2013, not only did we lose to Vanderbilt University, a team that has been a doormat in the SEC Eastern Division for years, but the Gators were embarrassed by an FBS team, the Georgia Southern Eagles, at “The Swamp”, a once upon a time feared venue for all visiting teams.

What has happened to this once-upon-a-time college football powerhouse?

The list is long and distinguished when answering that question. Let’s break it down into three categories: Injuries, Coaching, and Recruiting.

Starting QB Jeff Driskel was lost early in the season with a broken leg against the Tennessee Volunteers, and that was the beginning of the domino-effect as the injury bug continued to plague the Gators. Once all the dominoes laid on the table, the Gators finished the season to season-ending injuries without DT Chaz Green, DT Dominique Easley, RB Matt Jones, and LB Antonio Morrison just to name a few. Other very important players missed games, too.

Injuries most definitely played a tremendous part in the creation of Florida’s downward spiral, but let’s face it—Florida’s offense was a sore spot to begin with and QB Jeff Driskel had not shown any improvement prior to getting injured. Once Driskel was down and out, the transfer of QB Jacoby Brissett to NC State became the first nail in Florida’s 2013 season’s coffin. A mediocre offense became immediately horrific.

The defense, on the other hand, continued to play well, but even the best defenses get tired both physically and mentally. Eventually the injury bug got to them, too, but not to the same extent. A serious blow was when DT Dominique Easley went down for the year and immediately announced he would not be back and declared for the upcoming NFL Draft in 2014.

Some say that Will Muschamp has too much control over his offensive coordinators, and in three seasons has the head coach he has now gone through two, Charlie Weis and Brent Pease. The former left to become the head coach of Kansas after Muschamp’s first season, and Pease came over from Boise State and called the plays for the last two seasons. Neither one of these accomplished coaches could make anything go right for the Gators offense. It’s hard to believe that both coaches were that bad, but statistics are sometimes all people look at to determine success.

Both offensive coordinators coached pro-style offenses, and the majority of the current roster was recruited for former head coach Urban Meyer’s style of spread-offense. I can remember several times in the college football past when a coach asked a player to play a style they were unaccustomed to, e.g. Ron Powlus and Lou Holtz of Notre Dame. Beano Cook proclaimed that Powlus would win the Heisman twice due to his superior QB ability, but when asked to run an option-style offense, Powlus quickly became an afterthought in the annuls of history.

Muschamp has repeatedly stated that he wants to coach a physically and mentally tough team that relies on ball-control and stout defense, i.e. Nick Saban style. That’s all well and good, but if you’re asking a cat to catch a frisbee in the air then good luck. Any coach must work within the talents of those he has on the team, and not expect the team to do things they do not know how or have never done. Muschamp clearly doesn’t understand that concept; he has shown the exact opposite.

On the horizon there appear to be the recruit Muschamp and the Gator Nation have long waited for—Will Grier of Davidson Day High School in Davidson, NC. This four-star recruit is supposed to be the answer to Florida’s offensive woes. That’s all well and good, but he will be a true-freshman in 2014, and Driskel is suppose to be back in the beginning of the season. I doubt very seriously that Grier will be poised to take over this disaster of an offense that quickly. Add to the disaster of the 2013 season, the upcoming recruiting season will surely be a challenging one. Will it be enough, the return of injured players and the next chosen one, Will Grier, to bring Florida football back to respectability? It’s highly unlikely.

Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has given a full vote of confidence in Will Muschamp by not immediately firing him after the 2013 train wreck of a season. For reasons unbeknownst to me Foley feels that Muschamp is right man for the job. Florida’s 2014 schedule includes trips to Tuscaloosa, AL, Knoxville, TN and Tallahassee, FL, and it begins with games against Idaho and Eastern Michigan. The trip to Alabama is the fourth game, and if Muschamp’s Gators aren’t 3-0, don’t expect him to make the trip.

Watching Your Son Putting It All Together on the Football Field

Jake Makes the Stick!

Jake Makes the Stick!

The anticipation for today’s game was a fever-pitch from the moment Jake was named running back on offense and linebacker on defense. Unfortunately, due to poor field conditions Monday’s practice was cancelled. That didn’t damper Jake’s spirits at all; after school on Tuesday, he asked if we could go practice at the field when I got home from work.

When we arrived at Davis Park, we had the field all to ourselves. Immediately, Jake started running 25-yard sprints before asking me to play QB and practice hand-offs. We discussed ball-protection, keeping his legs moving until he was completely on the ground, and trusting his team members to do their jobs.

After 30 or so minutes, we switched and practiced linebacker/defense. We focused on technique, staying in his “area” (he would play LOLB), and not over-committing on the run. Jake also showed that his football IQ had definitely increased from the previous year, telling me what he was going to look for when the offense was setting pre-snap. I was very impressed with how seriously he was taking practicing his assigned positions.

Well, today was game-day, and Jake brought it! On offense, his number was called four times, and he ran with authority. The first run ended with no gain, but his second and third carries would bring a smile to Walter Payton’s face. He hit the holes with purpose, and kept his legs churning for additional yardage. It took at least three players to bring him down.

The fourth rush was simply gorgeous! The QB planted the ball right in Jake’s gut, and he blew right through off right tackle and blazed 24 yards for the touchdown! The best part—he ran over the handed the ball to one of the coaches and acted like it was no big deal when indeed it was; it was his first touchdown EVER on offense!

Then there was his defensive play that brought the crowd to their feet. Again, Jake lined up at LOLB (i.e. Left Outside Linebacker), the offense ran a bubble screen to his side of the field, and Jake closed in and put his helmet directly into the chest of the receiver. The sound of the collision reverberated throughout the crowd, the receiver lost the ball, and one of Jake’s teammates recovered!

The significance of the play was Jake’s team was down 8-6, and the play allowed his team to drive down over 40 yards for the game-winning TD!

Yes, Jake was given a game-sticker for his play, but not to fanfare of every parent. Some thought Jake led with his helmet and collided with the receivers helmet, but a picture that was taken clearly showed that Jake’s tackle was textbook. The sound we all heard was Jake’s face-mask/helmet hitting the receiver’s chest/shoulder pads. Yes, it was that hard and loud!

I am so proud of Jake. After the game, he ran up and gave me the hug of a lifetime. “Dad, I did everything you taught me and I had my best game ever!” he said, and I agreed. Not only did he help his team win the game, but a valuable life-lesson was learned: Hard-work, dedication, team-work, and perseverance always pays-off eventually. Keep at it, work hard, and listen to your coaches/teachers and good things happen.