I believe I now understand why my father, Lt. Col. Thomas F. Brubaker loved to tell stories about World War II. In my youth while growing up listening to those stories I really didn’t.
I don’t think he enjoyed reflecting on his experience as a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force because he missed the dogfights and the combat. I know he sure as hell didn’t miss being a prisoner of war. I now realize he missed the feeling. Not the feeling of malnutrition or not knowing if he would return from a mission; rather the feeling of caring so deeply about a cause and about the organization he served.
He would get together with fellow retired officers and travel to reunions of the 361st fighter group just to talk with others who shared that same feeling. I know now the feeling I’ve described is one of caring so deeply about a cause that you would be willing to give your life for it.
While running the Maine Half Marathon on October 2nd 2011, I got to glimpse that feeling. Please understand I am not comparing my run to combat or even service in the military; rather through this experience I was able to gain clarity about what a cause really means and what people are willing to sacrifice for a cause they care deeply about.
This was my second half marathon. During the race that year, I was touched by witnessing the many servicemen and women who volunteered there taking photographs, waving flags at us, and passing out water at the finish line. Receiving their support was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in my life. They lead a life of service to our community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 365 days a year and they gave of their personal time (probably on the heels of a 12-18 month deployment) to serve the local community in another capacity. Couple this with seeing the effects of deployments on several GI Bill students I teach at the local college and I decided I needed to be the one serving them and honoring them in some way.
I decided to honor my father and these many soldiers by running in 2011 Maine Marathon to raise funds for the MOAA’s American Patriot Scholarship. With the race coming on the heels of the tenth anniversary of the September 11th tragedies, this seemed a most appropriate cause.
I believe life leaves signs and clues for us to find and bring clarity to our thoughts. The military personnel volunteering at my previous race were the sign for me. What I learned during this year’s race brought about the clarity.
Was I doing the right thing for the right reasons? Absolutely. I received confirmation of this during the National Anthem when I glanced immediately to my right and saw a member of the United States Marine Corp standing at attention. After the anthem I gave him a quick thank you handshake before the cannon sounded starting the race.
The race was run in a torrential downpour and if the elements themselves weren’t enough, I heard what sounded like a gunshot at mile #3. It was in fact the popping sound of me tearing my calf. As I moved off to the side to stretch and walk off the pain, I considered calling it a day. Those thoughts were fleeting though, because when I glanced up whom did I see jogging by? The same US Marine I met at the starting line. My thoughts immediately shifted; if our soldiers can handle the adversity they endure on a mission I can do this. This in fact is easy. Finish your mission John.
Had I simply decided to enter the race for no reason other than for the sake of running for myself I may not have continued. After all, this is just one race and there are plenty of others that could be run on another day at 100%. This was not the case not today. I wasn’t running for myself I was running for a cause. A cause my father cared deeply about and a cause I could not let down.
I believe most retired officers probably tell their stories. They have similar feelings about their service that my father did. After they retire from the military, most will never find a position where they can recreate that same passion and purpose they felt about serving our country. I know this is why my father had a difficult time adjusting to work life after retiring from the Air Force.
In my professional role as a performance consultant, I work with companies to help them develop leaders and build a more engaged workforce. According to the Gallup organization- disengaged employees cost U.S. companies an estimated $350 billion annually. This staggering figure is in a sense, job security for someone in my role. Really these companies don’t need me to teach them how to do it. They need the U.S. military. I know one of my greatest lessons on engagement, aligning passion and purpose to your work took place through my partnership with the MOAA.