Remembering a Leader

Normally I post about my kids and my life with them but this blog is going to be about something I almost never talk about which is my military career. It is not all of it as some is way too painful to try to put to words but instead a remembrance of a leader who helped make me the person I am today.

Today I was notified that the General Officer I worked for RR had passed away. I was immediately consumed by sadness. RR was a controversial leader but he did right by me and for that I hold him in high esteem but our story is a bit strange and it goes like this….

I was barely in the National Guard for 2  years when a Lieutenant Colonel came to the office and told my boss “Paul I need a speech on sexual harassment prevention for Major General RR. I need it by tomorrow.” Well Paul was a writer for the military and I was assigned to him to work on editing submissions for the military paper we had. But Paul was a really good writer and I enjoyed hearing him talk through his process on the days he explained things to me. On this day though he looked a bit stumped when the LTC left the office so I asked if all was all right and he looked at me and said “I am not comfortable with this topic. I am a man what do I know about sexual harassment? I am not in a position to tell others what not to do because I cannot even imagine doing it.” It’s true Paul is a good man and harassment was NEVER something he could have done, he really was that much a gentleman.

Paul looked at me and said “What about you? I hear you can write which is why you are assigned to me. Can you write it?” I was terrified. I was the lowest ranking person on the floor for crying out loud and the Major General, well he ran the NY Army National Guard. But Paul was really intuitive too and said “Tell ya what you put together thoughts and I will look at it, revise it and I will hand it in. Are you all right with that?” Waves of relief flooded through me, yes that was fine. If it stunk someone qualified could correct it. So I sat down and wrote out five pages of copy for review and handed it to Paul at the end of the day.

The next morning the LTC walked back in and said to me “Are you 2LT ANYM?” I said yes I was and he said “Follow me” Well you don’t argue when a high ranking officer tells you do do something so I went trotting after him down the hall. We walk into MG RR’s office and I can see Paul. I was so terrified I had to remember to breath and NOT pass out. I hate the limelight, I avoid all leadership above my own and as long as I can blend I am good. The MG motioned for me to sit down in front of his desk and dismissed the LTC. Absolutely terrified I looked into Paul’s eyes for an explanation. Paul looked at me and smiled reassuringly. The MG addressed me

“So you are the one behind this piece of paper are you? (I nodded) You are the one who wrote this and your boss Paul decided to throw you under the bus. Your boss came to me last night and told me that I was not going to believe this but a brand new lieutenant wrote this speech, it is her first speech writing assignment and it is amazing.”

I looked at Paul quizzically and he nodded at me saying “Look I have rarely seen this happen before but you are an excellent writer. The General wanted me to bring you here today to let you know that you are to be part of his personal staff and be his speech writer. Your assignment is effective today.”

I argued I was WAY inexperienced, I had no military background, I was a girl (yes this is an issues in the early 90s) and this is just not a good idea. MG RR stuck out his hand and put it on my shoulder and said “I got ya and I will make sure you are taken care of” and with that I was on the General’s staff.

For 10 years I was on the General Officers staff. I went from MG RR onto  serve 4 other commanders in all the same capacity, speech writer and protocol officer. I wrote hundreds of speeches, traveled the world and experienced more than most of my same aged peers. But through it all MG RR never left me. He checked in on me until I retired myself to make sure I was fine and doing all right. When I confided about troubles he would intercede. I tried not to complain though because…well some things I had to do myself.

But what amazed me all those years was that he chose me. He chose a know nothing 2nd Lieutenant to write for him all those years because he said he saw something in me. Many people, including sometimes myself, are hesitant to take the least of the experienced and train them for any reason yet if MG RR did not do it, well this blog would not have come to be. MG RR taught me how to talk to people, not above them or down to them. He taught me to trust an instinct I had about a person and sometimes take a chance if it felt right. When people harassed me for my position or my gender, he always stood up and took them down. I knew I mattered and given my background and history this was huge to me.

I was grateful several years ago that I said thanks to him because today it is too late. But I am grateful for my General and his teachings both directly and indirectly. He will always have a soft spot in my heart and tonight part of me is saddened so I had to write one last speech in remembrance of him.

Rest in peace MG RR. I am definitely a better officer and leader as a result of your guidance.

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