A Veteran Leader’s Roll Call - Courage, Duty, and Roles

Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less. 

  General Robert E. Lee          

Taking on the tough nature of a task with fervor and dedication, one such as leadership, along with the roles and responsibilities that come with it, ranks as a key component of military service. Honoring this type of commitment on Veteran’s Day is important, as I and my late favorite uncle wore the army uniform.

The military defines leadership as “influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” Structured processes cement these principles in other types of organizations and institutions as well, mainly by ensuring that leaders are answerable, learned, and obligated in their actions, for themselves and their followers.

One ‘old-school’ way in which this accountability happens is through roll call. The question to be answered is: Are you here to work, study, or do your calling?

In the military tradition, each morning, leaders account for the presence of their soldiers through a roll call. The same happens in classrooms, as teachers and instructors also assume the task of taking attendance by calling the roll. The soldier’s or student’s response upon hearing their name is to yell, “Here!” or “Present!” or “Present and accounted for!” Once the attendance is taken, the day’s work can proceed. Everyone can perform their role, achieve results, make good marks, or complete assignments. At the end of the day (or whatever time has been allotted), the question is: Were our goals accomplished today? Did everyone fulfill their role?

In life, which can be viewed as one major roll call, we are here to do those same tasks, through the various roles for which we are called or chosen.  We seek to respond to the questions: What are we all here for?  What are we prepared to do?

Then, of course, there’s the final roll call and role completion, when we pass on, a summary of what we were present and accounted for. What will others remember about our existence? Did they hear or see something that will help them make their own mark?

I had the privilege of spearheading my late Uncle Horace’s memorial service in December 2011, to call the roll for him. AKA Hardcore, it was a true honor to name his attendance with the roles and responsibilities he held as a retired Command Sergeant Major, Vietnam Veteran, Airborne Ranger, recipient of the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Service Award from the Supreme Court of Virginia, Ranger Hall of Fame inductee, Christian servant, son, husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, cousin, friend, semi-pro Army football player, teacher, retired Chief Magistrate, Honorable Chairman of the Sussex County Board of Supervisors, and now resident on the other side.

Standing with me at our Waverly Virginia hometown church to present and account for his earthly journey, were people from many parts of Uncle Horace’s gifted and hard-fought natural life. With those who loved and honored him assembled that evening, I sensed his presence in a big way. In a conversation with a friend the day before, I’d expressed some anxiety about presiding over the memorial service. She assured me, “He’ll be there with you.” I shared this story with the audience and exclaimed, “He’s here!” adding my encouraging memories of hearing Uncle Horace’s booming voice from the deacon pew saying, “Go ahead! That’s right! Yeah!”

At the memorial service I and others spoke to the audience about his labor, wisdom, strength, humor, and faith— all attributes of someone in charge! The journey of his service to God, country, family, community, youth, and faith was revealed in such an inspiring, unforgettable way.

An overarching thread that ran through all of the tributes was the power of his leadership. He was undeniably willing, daring, outspoken, and loyal— a message that resonated immensely.

My leadership conversations with Uncle Horace also covered fear and courage. Had he ever been afraid? Yes! I’m sure he was terrified during his two tours in the jungles of Vietnam.  “You sleep with a pistol under your makeshift pillow and a grenade ready to roll out,” are the few words he’d shared about that horrid time. Possibly he was even a tad uncertain when he was propelled to high-level command positions with the enormity of access and visibility working directly for three -star generals. In both situations, his determination and focus kicked in— an undying will to succeed and survive.

How does this connect for all of us in the now?

These current times of change, when we are all encumbered with global and local challenges that impact every aspect of our being, can imbed personal and professional uncertainty. Will the economy improve? Can my organization sustain customer losses? Our home fronts – from family situations to career issues to health challenges – call us to fight on. Therefore, we must continue to navigate through and boldly go. We must call the enemy out. We must take the roll of what’s before us, then stand up, take on the role, serve it out, and lead on.


Excerpted from my book, Hardcore Leadership: 11 Master Lessons from My Airborne Ranger Uncle’s “Final Jump”   http://www.amazon.com/dp/1479324760


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