My Friend Ollie

I got to spend some time with my old buddy Ollie…also known as Rear Admiral Chris Murray.   As always, we spent the first hour verbally abusing each other.  My brother J soon joined us and enjoyed the back and forth banter of two, old F-14 RIOs going at it.

Ollie has done 32 years in the Navy and has recently decided to hang up the uniform early next year.  THIRTY-TWO YEARS!!!!  When we thought about it, we just looked at each other, and I remembered when we met 27 years ago at Fighter Town, USA…also then known as NAS Miramar.   I had been an F-14 instructor for about a year when he joined the squadron.  The first time I saw him he was sitting in the training office, with his feet perched on my desk.  He had the biggest Big Gulp I had ever seen in one hand, and a large plate of nachos in the other hand.   It was 7:00 am.  Various specks of cheese were splattered on his flight suit.  It was the middle of summer, but for some reason he was wearing his flight jacket.  He looked at me and smiled, “You Pads?”  My response: “Get your damn feet off my desk!”  Our relationship pretty much stayed the same over the next 27 years.  He would say stupid things and I would verbally harangue him mercilessly.

Back then, few of us dreamed of making the Flag ranks (Admiral levels).  We were just glad to be flying, looking cool and chasing chicks.  The thing about Ollie was that he was always  a fan of  the Navy.  Me…not so much.  I liked  the lifestyle, living in San Diego and hanging with the guys.  He was a true believer:  hard working and dedicated.  A company man.

As we grew older, I was always looking to retire as early as possible.  Ollie was always looking for his next job…one which would continue pushing him up the ladder of success.   When I took an early retirement, he was not real happy (perhaps a little jealous).  He, however, had bigger fish to fry.  He became a squadron Commanding Officer; then an Air Wing Commander.  He did staff jobs at major commands and assumed he would retire as a Navy Captain.  When he made Rear Admiral, he was a little surprised, as was his wife and most of his friends, including me.

I tell you what though, he deserved it and I am proud of him.   You see, Ollie was never a guy that would sacrifice his principles.  He would kiss up when needed, but never compromise his beliefs.  We laughed when he said:  “You know Pads, I kissed a lot of ass; but I never took it up the ass!”  That’s the Ollie that always stayed true to form.

Senior officers in the military tend to fall into two groups:  Leaders and Politicians.   Leaders care about the organization, the people,  mission success.   Leaders realize that they take the blame, but spread the praise to others.  Leaders are promoted…they earn it!  Politicians are appointed…they know someone.  They have a personal agenda that may not be in line with mission success.  Their focus is on individual recognition; self promotion; a burning desire to please themselves.   It’s a little sad and scary that those folks are often at the upper echelon of military decision-making, but such is the nature of the beast.   Ollie is a leader!

When went wine tasting on a Sunday afternoon.  It took me a about half an hour to deprogram him from his “Admiral talk”…you know, lots of syllables and a slow, deliberate delivery.  Somewhere around the third or fourth tasting, the Admiral disappeared and Ollie arrived.  “You’re an asshole, Crapshooter (his favorite name for me)!”   My normal reply: “Shut-up, Stupid!”

We had a sit-down pairing at my favorite winery.  It is a small, quiet, intimate setting where the wine folks talk about specific reserve wines and respective cheese pairings.   We were in there with about 5 other tables of folks.  Let’s just say we were the loudest.  Between the insults, the cussing and the laughter, we got the looks!  When we relocated to the main tasting room, the pairing folks drew a sigh of relief, but we just continued the stories and the buffoonery.   Within minutes, we had about 10 additional folks as our entourage…didn’t really know any of them, but they obviously enjoyed the show.   The two of us in the same piece of sky doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s kinda like Haley’s Comet.  You can’t miss it!

To my dear friend Chris, I raise a toast.  I’m proud of you  and your accomplishments.  I’m honored to be your friend.   And even though you look like you may be 70, I’ll always remember that first time we met….cheese spots and all.  Fair winds and following seas, my Brotha!

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What is a “Hero”

Every 4th of July people try to quantify what a “hero” is.   Really cool slogans are posted on the internet from various organizations or businesses:  “We are the Land of the Free because of the Brave” (meaning our heroes); or “So much is owed by so many to so few” (meaning our heroes); “Celebrate our Independence by remembering those who sacrificed everything”(meaning our heroes).

Let me give you my cut on this…because…it’s my blog.   As I start, let’s define what a hero isn’t!  A hero isn’t someone who hits 50 homers; throws 45 touchdowns; scores 60 points.  A hero isn’t someone who makes $100 million a year; wins the Senate race in Ohio; dates supermodels; wins an Oscar.   They may be heroes in other ways, but not for those reasons.

A hero is someone who is always there…always pluggin’ away….never quitting….someone who motivates and inspires you.  Parents, teachers, coaches, siblings, friends can all be heroes.  You know them, see them, watch them.  You honor them after the fact when you realize, “Hey, they were right.  They took the time to show me and I’m so thankful.”

A hero doesn’t ask for recognition.  A hero accepts his/her responsibilities; works hard to better themselves and others; sacrifices time, money, and energy.  When people thank me for my military service, I can only say, “you’re welcome.”  I didn’t join the Navy to get recognized.  I joined because it was cool; paid better than most jobs out of college; and the chicks dug the uniforms.   I don’t rise when the announcer at the ball game asks those who served our country to  “stand up and be recognized as a hero.” Why should I?  I’m not a hero for that.  The heroes are the ones who never made it home.   My friends who took off one day and never landed are my heroes.  I miss them every day and wonder “why them…and not me?”

If people really want to recognize a hero, then give him a job, help them out, ask how they feel…you know…talk to them as people who have hopes and dreams.  It’s trendy right now to shake a veteran’s hand and thank them for their sacrifice.  I remember when that wasn’t the case.

Teddy Roosevelt wrote an eloquent and accurate definition of a hero in his speech about the Man in the Arena:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

A hero is the one is the arena; a doer of deeds; a sacrificer for the worthy causes; who fails but never quits; one who lives and not just exists.

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