Archives For Family

Yesterday, I wrote about my cousin Shane’s Combat Parachute Jump into Iraq during OPERATION Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Today, I ask him a few questions about his experience in the military.

Shane and team after Afghanistan

Shane (far right) and team after returning from Afghanistan (courtesy of Major Shane Kelley)

What made you want to join the military? Why Army?

This is always a two-part answer. The reason that I initially joined the Army was simply because they funded my college degree. I earned an ROTC scholarship while in high school, which earned me a commission into the Army upon completion of the program, so that got me in. The reasons why I continue to serve in the Army are because I believe there are few other jobs that present the types of challenges experienced through military service and combat, I take great pride in adding to the positive lineage of the American Soldier, and most of all I thoroughly enjoy sharing in the camaraderie of working with some exceptional men and women in uniform.> Reflecting on your Army life from 10 years ago, what have you learned since then?>

Just when I think I know everything, I learn a valuable lesson. The Army life, especially during a time of war, is ever-changing and evolving. The only thing that is consistent in the Army is change, which has impacted me in two significant ways. First, I have learned to approach unknown situations or environments fluidly with an open but focused mindset for what may come. This is not just a mindset that is needed in nearly any combat situation, but also helps me make the best out of almost any situation in all aspects of life. Second, I have grown as a leader significantly in the last 10 years by connecting with Soldiers and finding various methods to motivate them in their accomplishing their duties. 10 years ago, I would run around barking orders to make things move. Now I provide guidance and motivation and am always impressed by what Soldiers are capable of accomplishing.

What are you presently doing?

I am now a Military Intelligence Officer and most recently earned my M.S. in Strategic Intelligence. In my current job, I help support policymakers and military leaders with intelligence products concerning some of our national adversaries.

Were you scared during the jump into Iraq?

I should have been. The Soldiers on my plane heading to the jump were displaying a gambit of emotions. Some were sleeping, some were crying, some were talking to themselves to psych themselves up. I kept reviewing in my head all of the details for our plan on the ground, rehearsing through my mind over and over the tasks that my platoon needed to accomplish. I was so focused on what I had to do on the ground that I didn’t pay enough attention to what I had to do to get out the door, which is why I smacked my head twice on the side of the plane. Before you can conquer the day, you have to get up out of bed successfully.

How did your first experience in Iraq compare to your subsequent tours in Afghanistan and again in Iraq?

There are far too many differences between the locations, people, times, and even objectives when comparing my three deployments, but I will focus on two key differences. The first one was the redeployment frame of mind. What I mean is that we jumped into the dark abyss with no idea of when we would return during the first deployment, so my mindset was “one thing at a time” and “this will end at some point.” However, I went into the second and third deployments with an expected end date, which changed the mindset a little bit to “let’s see how much I am able to accomplish or cram into 12 or 15 months.” The other major difference, especially when compared in order, was the evolution of the threat/counter-threat cycle. I think it is very commendable for an enormous and generally slow changing organization like the Army to adapt to the fast paced insurgent environments in both countries and relatively quickly provide resources to counter the greatest threats on the battlefield. I’m sure this issue will be debated for many years to come, but I witnessed the evolution of resources and techniques in the Army firsthand over the course of my deployments and believe that the Army’s ability to evolve quickly attributes to much of the successes that can be claimed in both countries.

Your wife Tiffany served in the Army. Tell me about her role, how you served together, and what she is doing now.

My wife and I met while we were both in training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. She deployed to Iraq as an Intelligence Officer initially in her Army career and then finished her time working for a Wounded Warrior unit helping Soldiers receive care for a wide range of physical and mental issues. Now, she is attending law school and working at a law firm while amazingly raising two young boys.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to serve in the military today? 

Military service comes with sacrifices and benefits. Talk to multiple men and women that have served to gain a variety of perspectives on the positive and negative aspects of a military career. Like any decision, learn as much as you can about both the good and the bad and weigh them for your own situation. Don’t forget to include the intangible aspects of serving your country when weighing your options because they are some of the greatest benefits of all.

What do you want to share with your kids when they are older?

The reasons why it is important to contribute to the greater good and why it is important for some to sacrifice on behalf of the many.

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Shane standing for his ceremony in Iraq to be promoted to Captain (courtesy of Major Shane Kelley)

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Shane giving a toast for a fallen member of his platoon during a memorial event held shortly after his death at our compound in Iraq (courtesy of Major Shane Kelley)

March 26th, 2013 marks the 10th Anniversary of the Airborne assault during OPERATION Iraqi Freedom to establish the northern front. That invasion was the first sortie in a conflict of a different kind than those that came before. For one, today’s military is made purely of volunteers. Therefore, unlike previous wars, it is harder to personally know someone who fought in it. For another, the Iraq War changed how we understood wars to be fought. The demarcated battle lines of World War II or the Cold War were replaced by an invisible enemy. Even the name “The War on Terror,” suggest a combat of ideas more than adversaries.

I am thankful to come from a family of many whom have proudly served our military. As I’ve written before, although I have not served, I believe it is a mission of mine to tell their stories. That’s why I would like to introduce you to my cousin, the young 2nd Lieutenant Shane Kelley, and share a piece of his story.

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Meet my cousin, Major Shane Kelley. In this picture he is being promoted to Captain in Afghanistan (courtesy of Major Shane Kelley)

I was blessed to see my cousin Shane just a couple of weeks before he left for Italy to join the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The war in Iraq was looming, and after 9/11 some called the men and women insane who volunteered to be the first in harm’s way. Yet, he was determined to take on this new challenge in life. It was inevitable that Shane would face combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Shane had finished college earlier in 2002 and was in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Radford University. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry after graduation, and attended Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, and Airborne School before heading to the 173rd Airborne. In a conversation before he left, we spoke a lot about what was ahead in the Army. He had been training for four years, and he told me, “Dave, we are ready to go. We just need a mission.” Soldiers aren’t meant to be idle. They are created to fight and protect. And my cousin was ready to go. A few weeks later, he boarded a plane for Italy; he was on his way. I’d read enough books and watched enough movies to know that our conversation may have been the last conversation we ever had.

The first words Shane heard from his first Company Commander were,

“Welcome to Italy, we’re jumping into Iraq.”

It was time and immediately he and his fellow soldiers went into preparation. They were about to embark on the largest combat airborne operation since World War II (1000 troops). The jump was also the longest combat operation in airborne history, over 1800 miles from Vicenzia to Iraq.

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Preparation for the jump in Aviano (photo by Sean LaFrenier)

I remember sitting at my desk at work when the invasion of Iraq began. What a dichotomy between what I was reading in the comfort of my warm office and my cousin literally stuck in the mud in Northern Iraq!

Later, Shane was asked to keep a blog. He recorded his jump experience in the post The Six Jump Chump. I think it is one of his most fascinating stories. Shane recounted,

…this five-hour flight seemed to last a month. Some slept. Some reviewed notes. Some even cried. I spent the time envisioning the mission on the ground and reviewing all of my tasks in my head.  Eventually we snapped every snap, buttoned every button, hooked every hook and tightened every strap of our equipment; each of us now weighing an additional 140 lbs. on average.

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C-17s lined up at the airfield (courtesy of the 173rd Airborne)

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Soldiers seated on their C-17 during their long flight to Iraq (courtesy of the 173rd Airborne)

It was Shane’s first jump from a C-17, and he stumbled and hit the side of the plane on the way out.

I slowly began to spin… and then quickly began to spin, until my risers freed up and I was now ready to control my decent to the ground.  I looked up and checked my canopy, thankfully seeing a fully open parachute above me.  Now time to look below me and… PLOP!  My feet sank into the mud below me… I was already on the ground.

Next up was finding everyone in his platoon while carrying over 100 lbs of gear through the mud. With that jump and those steps, Shane’s war, and his military career, had begun.

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A soldier from Shane’s company in the 173rd Airborne taking a kneel in Northern Iraq the morning after the jump (courtesy of the 173rd Airborne)

I still have the letter that Shane wrote to me from Northern Iraq describing the jump, and I will cherish it and share with my own girls when they are older.

I am thankful for my cousin Shane as well as all of those who have sacrificed careers, families, limbs, and even their lives to protect us. We live in a complicated and gray political world, but I am inspired today by his words to me before he left for war.

“We are ready. Just give us a mission.” He went on to serve two more combat tours: one in Afghanistan (2006) and once more in Iraq (2009).

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Eternal thanks to my cousin Shane as well as the multiple others, including his lovely wife Tiffany, who have served to protect us. It has been a joy to play together with Shane as children and as adults see each other find our ways.

*****Tomorrow, I will be posting an interview with my cousin, now Major Shane Kelley. You will hear from him directly and learn more about his experience.*********

I was at the supermarket the other after a long day of work and had a long list of weekly groceries. One of our meals consisted of required securing of good ole American hot dogs and buns to match. I am surprised to find that not much has changed in the quantity matching of hot dogs and buns since George Banks’ rant in the classic movie Father of the Bride (1991). Any father goes through a moment or two like this. If you have never seen this scene, you will relate when things get tough trying to take care of everyone. We’ve all earned the right from time to time to lose it like George.

George Banks sums it up in the movie,

You fathers will understand. You have a little girl. An adorable little girl who looks up to you and adores you in a way you could never have imagined. I remember how her little hand used to fit inside mine. Then comes the day when she wants to get her ears pierced, and wants you to drop her off a block before the movie theater. From that moment on, you are in a constant panic. You worry about her meeting the wrong kind of guy, the kind of guy who only wants one thing, and you know exactly what that one thing is, because it’s the same thing you wanted when you were their age. Then, you stop worrying about her meeting the wrong guy, and you worry about her meeting the right guy. That’s the greatest fear of all, because, then you lose her.

I have 2 and 4-year-old daughters. I sure hope I’m not that point of giving them away like George Banks. I feel his similar sentiment and of course it matters to me who they could potentially marry one day. That is years away of course and even if they choose to never get married I must prepare for that. There is a different loss I need to prepare for, which is independence from both mom and dad. This week I felt a bit of what George described when I dropped my oldest daughter Madelyn off at her new school for Junior Kindergarten. Yes, it is only a three-day school this year but it represented a step toward becoming more of an individual that gradually won’t need me like she does now.

Unless they are in denial, any mother or father understands that their job to raise children is the hardest occupation they will have in life. Forget the spreadsheets, TPS reports, or whatever you do in life for a day job.

In the past 5 years I’ve discovered that my greatest challenge is sharing who Jesus Christ is to my kids amidst all of life’s busyness. I didn’t know who Jesus really was until I was 15 but it has been my prayer since both my girls were born for them to understand and trust in Christ in their circumstances. Their mother nor I will be there for every difficult moment and I can guarantee life will be have plenty of them. I want them to recognize that they are more than a bride here on earth but one being prepared for their savior, Jesus.

Part of God’s work is allowing me to let go and trust him in this process and allow him to be the real “father of the bride”. The issue is in my heart and how I need to let go over time. Our kids are God’s kids and the more I recognize that, the more freedom I have to be a good father and allow God to work.

God help us all, right?

 

If you are parent, what have you learned in “letting go” of your kids?

 

 

Recently driving I heard the radio tagline for a Christian station that said “Safe for the whole family.” Sounds nice, eh? Seems reassuring, right? It’s as if Walt Disney was speaking directly to me and it felt really soft like a cashmere sweater in the fall. I am a marketer so I can appreciate someone trying to create “emotion” and “security” to bring me in and feel good about my choice. In this case, I was listening to a radio station.

I am quite cognizant of what I expose my girls to when it comes to culture, especially music. What parent doesn’t want his or her children to be safe and live as pure of a life as possible? On earth we are realists too and recognize there is only so much we can control when it comes to exposure. The moments our children step away from us, the more the world becomes their experience, not our experience. But they watch my wife and I carefully.

I live in a suburban area full of safe activities but most of it is about staying in a box. This box is full of safe things to do. Drive a safe car. Secure the right job. Protect your kids at school. Do your homework. Check off the list as it goes on and on. I think Satan ultimately wants us as Christians to stay in this safety box. I fall for it constantly and think that this is purely the good life and what is wrong with that?

Life can easily become a “safety dance” because we love to justify our security and dance around what is behind it.

God wants something different from us.

He wants to unleash us in a way that he unleashed his son for us. 

John 14:6 Jesus made it pretty clear about the path. And it ain’t easy.

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

If we are truly going to take this call seriously we must step out of this box, dance differently and do work that takes us into the wild. I’m learning that it doesn’t mean you have to quit doing all of those things I mention above. They are good things and I believe God blesses them as long as we don’t worship them and hide behind them.

My modern-day fictional suburban hero, Lloyd Dobler, said in the movie Say Anything,

I’m looking for a dare to be great situation.

Let’s take Lloyd Dobler’s advice. Let’s get dangerous and seek God’s greatness. Let’s seek greatness in the way Jesus truly calls us.

May you have the passion and bravado of Ernest Hemingway and the faith and sensibility of C.S. Lewis in your journey to dance freely.

 

What dreams are you holding back on because it feels risky or perhaps dangerous? 

Prior to watching the movie Iron Lady (2011) I figured that it would be a typical one-sided look at the conservative mind of Margaret Thatcher. Instead I found it as an intriguing study of an ordinary woman from an ordinary background overcoming incredible odds while the supporting character was her conservatism. It helps that the great Meryl Streep plays her (and well deserved the Oscar). Thatcher in the movie is quite quotable and didn’t rise up to become the longest-serving (1979–1990) British Prime Minister of the 20th century, and the only woman ever to have held the post for nothing.

“We will stand on principle… or we will not stand at all.”

There seems to be some truth to the line, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” But how many amazing women don’t get noticed?  The unsung heroes are also the ones I want to know. Even today as a man it seems more difficult for a woman than a man to succeed in a career outside of the home and we should admire them uniquely. My wife and I are blessed and humbled to raise two wonderful daughters and we feel the responsibility to lead them carefully. I’d love to look up to their mother, grandmothers and other female relatives to learn their stories of perseverance. I want to also intentionally introduce the wide variety of female heroes.

There are great women to admire like Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, Anne Frank, Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sally Ride, J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, or even biblical characters like Mother Mary, Ruth, Sarah, and Hannah, perhaps.  Like Margaret Thatcher, no matter what political philosophy one holds you can’t deny the spirit and tenacity of modern women like Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Oprah Winfrey. These women did some amazing things whether in the forefront or quietly behind the scenes and slowly their story became told with time. I want to tell their stories to my girls and teach them about these women’s strengths and yes even their weaknesses.  I want my girls to understand that none of these women were perfect but they made a difference because of some specific things and possess unique qualities to admire.

The qualities I’ve always admired in women who have made a difference are strength, faith, humility, gratitude, grace, perseverance, drive, patience, loyalty, and creativity.

Now I’m just white, 30-something male living in the burbs.  But I am also a dad who cares about his girls and wants to introduce them to some amazing women as they grow up.

Ladies, what say you?  

Who do you admire and why? Who inspired you when you were growing up?

Who are the unsung female heroes we can look up to? 

Recently, Brooke and I were finally able to sit down and watch The Descendants (2011) starring George Clooney.  Alexander Payne directed this authentic portrayal of a family dealing with loss and betrayal in the setting of beautiful Hawaii. I have always been a fan of Payne’s earlier films, About Schmidt and Sideways. His films are far from plastic Christian family films and are R-rated, full of characters who are busy, frustrated, but also have had a taste of what joy could look like in life by their ambitions.  These three movies are representative of a fallen world yet a world full of real people with real flaws we all can relate to.  Any movie willing to remove the mask I can appreciate. I’ve written about this before but in all of art, I try to look at where Christ can teach us about how to live, even through a movie like The Descendants.

Years ago I asked an older friend of mine how he was doing with his kids.  He said something like “You know, I have been spending a lot of time with my kids but the hardest part isn’t that, it is how to best engage with them.” I wasn’t a father then but it stuck. I thought of my own parents and the times we bonded best and it was almost always when there was true engagement through conversation, experience, and genuine discussion.

The Descendants reminds me of how I am supposed to be engaging with my kids. As I write, my girls are only 2 and 4 but it seems evident that if I don’t start doing this now, it will be more and more difficult to do like what we see in George Clooney’s character.

As a parent, I am learning these 5 things about what I need to do to be a good parent:

  1. Be present. You can’t be a parent without first establishing that you are there for them. Your job may be important and incredibly busy but there is no more important job than being there for your little ones.
  2. Listen. The more I ask the girls questions, the more I discover about their hearts through what they like and don’t like, etc.  Sometimes this requires me to be extra attentive when they start talking about the most trivial things but they want our full attention.
  3. Be patient. There are days that my kids won’t want much to do with me. Sometimes they just want their mom more (like what The Descendants implies).  Never feel like what you are doing is a waste of time because by being there for them, there will be the right time when they come to you.
  4. Pursue. Don’t be too frustrated if they push you away. Continue trying to engage. Whether kids admit it or not, they want us as parents to show continual interest and keep that hand extended no matter how bad things get.  You may have a broken relationship with your child and I can’t imagine how hard that would be. Give healing some time and never stop your pursuit.
  5. Join them. Go on adventures together. I read a great story in Meg Meeker’s book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters about a father who despite not having a good relationship with his daughter, he did what he knew best and took her camping. Even the trip it didn’t solve everything, the shared experience broke barriers and opened up the relationship to grow again.
Sometimes there will be smiles.
Sometimes there will be pain.
But it is all in the joy of parenting and a reminder that we never should give up.
God has never given up on us. 

I was impressed with the 15 minute story on 60 Minutes this week about “Redshirt Students”. I became aware of this issue since having kids and if you do not know much about it, you can read a great article in Huffington Post. To summarize the issue, many parents are holding back their kids to start Kindergarten a year later. Why? The idea is so their kids will be older and have an edge on other students. They could be physically bigger to be more developed athletes (read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers on Canadian Hockey players). They could be more advanced in the classroom. They could eventually be the first to drive at 16 to have a social edge. They could also be better leaders just for the fact of being older. It seems to be an issue affecting boys more than girls but nevertheless it is happening to both. I envision a Tiger Mom’s saliva dripping from its mouth at the thought of this.

There are plenty of negatives to this like being bored in the classroom, have behavioral issues, trouble relating to the younger students, etc. Yes, it is confusing for the kids.

But this is not about the kids. 

Photo Credit: Premus

Brooke and I have two wonderful, unique, and imperfect girls. Our oldest daughter will be starting a Pre-K class next year so this issue hits home as we observe what other parents do for their kids. Brooke and I could technically hold back our daughter a year from Kindergarten and start her at 6 1/2.  Yes, 6 1/2, which is crazy to us. Despite being the youngest in her class, so far she has every ability to keep up with the older kids. There are many instances of younger kids need to be held back, which is understandable and shows how each situation is unique.

The idea of redshirting students reminds me of my experience dealing with some of my friends’ parents at a young age. When I was even eight years old, I knew that these parents were pushing my friends at every sport. They verbally abused them, practically broke out a whip to keep them practicing, rarely praised them, etc. It was disgusting and if they were smart enough to start their kids earlier in school, they would have (maybe they did). But most of my friends who were pushed around so hard by their parents were stressed, unhappy, and eventually ended up in serious therapy (or should have). I am thankful for my parents were not pushy but encouraging in that process and ultimately helped me to be successful in the things I was most passionate about in those years.

Why do parents do this?

There are three reasons:

  1. Envy: They see other parents’  kids “succeeding” early in life. They see it as necessary to make sure their kids do the same or better. It is pure envy.
  2. Fear: God forbid their kids would not be the best in something or not succeed. They feel the need to “protect” their kids because they fear failure.
  3. Pride: Even parents want to feel significant. Perhaps it is through their child’s success? Perhaps they are trying to make up for some issue in their own life and forcing it on their own kids? But pride is at the root of all of this.
All of this points to a redshirt life. We all are susceptible to this lie.

The redshirt life is about safety, control, and lack of adventure.

Brooke and I have discovered as parents how easy it can be to be caught in this trap. The idea of redshirting our kids is a reminder that Brooke and I need to give our kids up to God. We want to be great stewards with the gifts God has given us, especially our kids. But ultimately this all is a reminder that we need to give up control. God reminded me this week through 2 Timothy 1:7 (King James),

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

There will be many more times we will encounter issues like this. May we all be in prayer for our kids and to also ask God to reveal our own hearts in the process. The verse above is about trusting God, thinking with the good mind he gave us and to always act in love for our children.