Nearby was a gentleman who sat quietly, arms crossed, with his notebook closed. Being an observer of human behavior, he caught my attention. The rest of the participants looked like a bunch of 1st year cadets writing down every word the speaker was saying – for a while I probably looked like one of them. He sat comfortably looking like a statue. As we moved into small groups for topic discussion, I kept an ear aimed his direction. When a member of his group asked, he answered, “I work for the government.” He didn’t elaborate.
The next day we had a one on one exercise. With an attempt to appear random, I maneuvered into a seat next to him, and we started chatting. I mentioned that I worked with various groups to talk about leadership and mentioned how I am always impressed when I talk with special ops units and their ability for adaptation. His ever so slight grin showed that I had connected. My respect for him was innate. By the end of our discussion, I had found out – via a very low volume dialogue – that I was sitting next to a retired Navy Captain of 25+ years of service who now had responsibilities within the defense realm. He routinely worked with our special ops teams. We talked for about 20 more minutes about various current conflicts, leadership, changes for the future, etc. Shortly thereafter, he mentioned that he needed to depart early. I smiled and said that I had trouble getting flights out that I wanted. His situation was a bit different. He said that he was catching a sch eduled medivac to head back to the office. I smiled – but of course you are.
Clearly this isn’t a story of amazing combat heroism or of a moment where my life was in peril. However, for me – in a realm where I expected to be surrounded by business executives looking for a new paradigm to adopt and later forget, I was struck again with the reminder that the organizations, agencies, and units that secretly undergird this nation are the very ones who enable everything else to happen. As he put on his jacket, I reached out a hand and said, “Thank you. If it weren’t for what you do each day, none of what we are doing in this leadership course would matter at all.” He quietly responded, “I’d like to think so.”
Forty minutes later I heard the unmistakable sound of a 60 headed outbound. At that moment, I couldn’t help but think of the duty we all have – like the fidelity in a marriage between those who are free and those who daily fight for that freedom. Those who fight have always been true. May those who are free seek to be true to that marriage as well. Too many forget. But not me – not today – and not tomorrow, forever.
Photo: Staff Sgt. Capio with buddy on top of Mountain Kabul holding US Flag