Standing in the parking lot of the Army recruitment office in Sherman, Texas, I was preparing for a journey that would impact my life in ways I could never imagine. As I’m saying my goodbyes to my family, my father grabbed my hand, squeezed it tightly, looked me in the eyes and said, “Son, I’ve never been more proud of you than I am today.” Those words struck me deeply. Ever since I was a child, I had always been seeking my father’s approval, and, after 22 years of life, I finally received it.
The two years prior to this day had been the best years with my father. We would sit on the porch for hours on end, sharing beers and swapping stories, spending time in the garage building or fixing something as a team. We finally had a great relationship. These are the moments and experiences I cherish over most others in my life because they helped shape me into the man I am today. At the time, I could not begin to imagine the impact these memories would have on my life. On that cool, Thursday morning in mid November, I engaged in a proud and long-awaited handshake with my father – it would be the last time I saw him alive. I left Texas that afternoon for Army Basic Training in Columbia, South Carolina.
Twenty-four days after I arrived in South Carolina, my father passed after having a severe stroke. I lost my mentor, my buddy, and closest friend I had ever known. The sudden and unexpected loss of my father continues to hurt even to this day; however, what I learned from it and how I chose to let it affect me has defined me as the man I am today.
I returned to Army Basic Training after my father’s funeral and subsequent Christmas break in January 2012 a completely changed and fundamentally different man. I held on to his last words using them as my motivation to be the best version of myself I could possibly be. I continued through my training and Army schooling, eventually graduating at the top of my class. I clearly remember being on the twelfth mile of an 18-mile run wanting to walk, or worse, quit. But I didn’t. In my mind, I would ask myself if quitting would make my father proud. Is giving up what he wants for you? Will that make him proud and me a better soldier? No!
For the majority of my military career I used his words to push me. These thoughts of him were my motivation. Would he be proud of anything less than my best? No. He would know I could give more, go faster, and be stronger, so that’s what I did. I gave my absolute best in everything I attempted. Pushing myself to my maximum paid off in early promotions, awards, special opportunities, and guaranteed selection for certain military schools.
Today, I am no longer in the military; my college education is my new career, and there are not nearly as many challenges in school as there were in the military. I turned a horrible, life-changing event into a guide that helped me become the best person I could be. But I no longer had the challenges I was accustomed to. My motivation and my desire to excel disappeared the same week I retired from the Army. No more challenges, nothing left to push my limits and guide me like the military once did.
Luckily, I discovered Team Rubicon several weeks after my military separation. After two years serving as an active member in the organization, I applied and was accepted to the fourth cohort of the Clay Hunt Fellows Program (CHFP). Becoming a Fellow challenged my life, providing new ways of thinking, developing skills, exploring my strengths, and shedding light on my weaknesses. Team Rubicon gave me a new mission, purpose, and identity I was missing after military service, but the CHFP has encouraged me to dig deeper and work harder than ever before.
”Son, I’ve never been more proud of you.” My father passed away 11 years ago, and through my service with Team Rubicon and the CHFP, I’ve been able to keep his words alive. I hope this message serves as a reminder that life is about the journey we take and the stories behind it, not the destination.
Beginning Jan. 15, Team Rubicon is accepting applications for the fifth cohort of the Clay Hunt Fellows Program, a 12-month leadership and training program for veteran members. Learn more and apply by March 31, 2017.