Tag Archives: military

How a Collision Boosted My Dad’s Navy Career

In honor of the 4th yartzheit of my father, Gerald Bemel, may he be remembered for blessing, I am sharing a story from his navy days.

Vivid stories of my father’s navy service help me keep his memory alive. One of my favorites is particularly appropriate to the topics of personal development and entrepreneurship.

How a Collision Boosted My Dad’s Navy Career

Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps afforded my father the opportunity to go to college. So in 1954, his degree complete and newly married, off my dad went to his first ship ported in Charleston, South Carolina. Soon thereafter he headed to the Mediterranean Sea on his first cruise.

Growing up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, my father swam, sailed, and lifeguarded his summers away. Comfortable in and on the water, he was at home on the ocean. One day, while off duty, he was lounging on deck when he noticed the ship in imminent danger of running down a buoy.

In those days, France was particular about her buoys (not to mention her gulls, wouldn’t you be?) and knowing this my father sprang into action. Grabbing a couple of sailors they launched one of the ship’s boats intending to remedy the crisis. Motor churning the sea at top speed, boat hook at the ready to move the buoy out of the ship’s course, Ensign Bemel had the situation well in hand.

And then it happened.

Misjudging the distance, dad slammed into the buoy before the boat slowed sufficiently. But the French had little about which to complain. The buoy was undamaged. The boat was not so fortunate. The term my father used was stove in, meaning a gaping hole in its side.

Ignominiously, dad, crew, and disabled boat were rescued. Word was passed. The captain wanted to see Ensign Bemel.

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Standing at attention in the passageway outside the captain’s cabin, me father contemplated his fate. His commanding officer was a mustang, an enlisted sailor who became an officer, in this case for meritorious action during combat operations of World War II. Old salt did not begin to describe his captain. He was harder than 19th century ship’s biscuit, the kind that broke teeth.

The door opened. The Executive Officer ordered my father in, then left, closing the door behind him.

Standing at rigid attention in front of his CO’s deck, my dad presented himself: “Ensign Bemel reporting as ordered, SIR!”

Captain: “Very good Mr. Bemel, have a seat.”

Dad, flummoxed: “Have a seat sir??”

Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, there in that chair.”

Tentatively, my father sat down.

Captain: “Now Mr. Bemel, tell me what happened.”

My father recounted the incident. Then he and the Captain discussed how he might handle a similar situation in the future.

About 30 minutes later the Captain told my father he thought that about covered it and to carry on with his duties.

Flabbergasted, my dad could not refrain from asking: “That’s all Captain??”

Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, carry on.”

Dad: “But Captain, I stove in a boat, damaged navy property, embarrassed the ship. What is my punishment?”

Captain: “Mr. Bemel, I’ve just spent a considerable sum training you. I need you to put that training to work right away. Besides, you have demonstrated the one thing I cannot teach. Initiative. You saw a problem and you acted. You could have done so more effectively, but you acted. I need that quality in my officers.”

Only You Can Take Action that Will Change Your Life

No one breaks a habit through inaction. No business ever started spontaneously. You might stave in your boat, but you will learn valuable lessons. As important, you will show yourself and others, you have what it takes to succeed.

What keeps you from taking the first step

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Pursue Entrepreneurship Like a Marine

When stationed with the Marine Corps, I learned a concept called maneuver warfare. Attrition warfare was the primary philosophy until World War I. Today speed and agility, also called shock and awe, dominates warfighting.  Typically thought of spatially, Marines broaden it to include psychological, technological, temporal, as well as spatial issues.  As the wars wind down I've been thinking about how to apply this doctrine to entrepreneurship.

Lesson from the Marine Corps

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While I don't equate business to war, the usefulness of maneuver warfare translated into entrepreneurship can ignite your life. Here’s how:

  1. Spatial Maneuver: Merely because another company is larger and better capitalized doesn't mean you can't enter the market.  Its size can be its biggest weakness if it prevents innovation and agility in the marketplace.  Maneuvering spatially means more quickly taking advantage of opportunities than larger, better funded competitors.
  2. Psychological Maneuver: The psychological enemy you face as an entrepreneur ranges from negative self-talk and opposition from family and friends to the lack of knowledge you need to pursue your idea.  Tackling this enemy requires forethought as to how you'll respond.  For example, when someone, including yourself, puts down your concept or your potential to succeed will you simply ignore it?  Can you continue to do so over time?  You'll do better if you analyze the defeatist arguments and have ready answer showing them to be wrong.
  3. Technological Maneuver: Technology is amazing.  But note that this can mean it is amazingly good AND amazingly bad.  Its value lies in how well it helps you get your business underway and makes it run better.  Technology purely for its own sake will hold back your progress.  Maneuvering through the technological morass should lead you to solutions that help you serve your customers and make you a nimbler competitor.
  4. Temporal Maneuver: In war, by creating a faster operating tempo than the enemy, Marines seek to disrupt their enemy’s ability to react.  With entrepreneurship, the temporal enemies are the desire for perfecting your product or service, fear of failure, or other issues that cause you to delay launching.  By setting hard and fast goals for completing each task of your start-up plan and sticking to them, establishing a battle rhythm, you gain the inertia you need to break through the temporal barrier.

Marines constantly train by planning and practicing how to use maneuver to make them the most effective warfighters in the world.  Success means shattering the enemy’s cohesion so badly it can't function.

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The enemies of your success wage a war of attrition.  Everyday they seek to dissuade you from changing your mindset and engaging in tasks that will improve your life.  Undoubtedly your definition of success differs from the Marine Corps'.  But making maneuver a key aspect of your plan will help you more quickly defeat the negative attitudes and lethargy holding you back.

Which type of maneuver will help you most toward your goals?

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An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons

Recently I commented to a friend that I admired his reading business books. Although they have valuable ideas, the writing is less than enthralling. You probably don't have nearly as much time to read as you'd like. But having come across a series of short books containing practical leadership lessons embedded in captivating narratives I knew I had to tell you about them. I mentioned one of them, Patton in my list of the 10 best books I read last year.

I've read five of the 14 biographies in Palgrave Macmillan’s Great Generals series. Written by some of the best military historians, such as Alex Axelrod, Donald A. Davis, H. Paul Jeffers, and Jim Lacey, all were outstanding. Each takes about 7 hours to read or listen to. They cover the subject’s early life, military career, and civilian life after the army if he had one, emphasizing the qualities each general groomed in himself, how he worked with mentors, the significant mistakes he made, and how he overcame them.

Leadership and Personal Development

While its goal is leadership development, the series is equally valuable as a personal development tool.

Rather than proclaiming their subject’s greatness, each general’s eminence becomes self-evident as his story unfolds.

Having read these, I personally recommend:

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Marshall (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Bradley (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Pershing (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Stonewall Jackson (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Patton: A Biography (Great Generals)

I plan to read the other nine, which are:

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Custer (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Washington (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Sherman (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Andrew Jackson (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons LeMay (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons MacArthur (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Grant (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Robert E. Lee (The Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership LessonsEisenhower: A Biography (Great Generals)

My email to Palgrave Macmillan wasn't answered, but it appears the series is ongoing so hopefully it will come to include General Henry “Hap” Arnold, General Winfield Scott, and General Matthew B. Ridgway.

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I'm curious to know if you have read any of these already and if so what you think about them.

What is your biggest challenge to reading more?

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My Memorial Day Prayer

On this Memorial Day, I urge you to take some time to reflect on the meaning of the day. Over 650,000 Americans have given their lives in battle from the American Revolution through Global War on Terror. Another 310,000 died in theater but not in combat and 230,000 service members died outside of theaters of war. In total, nearly 1.2 million men and women sacrificed their futures to secure yours. How will you repay this debt?

My Memorial Day Prayer

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In cemeteries, both in the United States and in foreign lands, they rest. Their names chiseled on gravestones as they should be on your heart: a timeless reminder of their dedication. Lest you forget those who died, their names known only to G-d, the vigil of honor marches around-the-clock at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But how will you remember them?

So today at 4:00 p.m. I will be giving the invocation at the Memorial Day service at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial in Irvine, California. You can read more about this moving tribute to our service members who gave their lives for our freedom at www.northwoodmemorial.com.

Here Is My Memorial Day Prayer

Master of the World, we convene under the canopy of Your eternal grace and ask that You bless these proceedings as we honor our fellow Americans who gave their lives that we might live to continue in Your service.

Humbly we acknowledge that we do not know Your plan. We yearn for the time of permanent peace knowing that You have declared yet there will be a time for war. And so, our hearts feel the grief of loss mingled with pride at their sacrifice.

In trust that the souls of those we commemorate today have been joined with You in Your heavenly abode, we humbly beseech You: Bind up the wounds of we, Your children, here on Earth. Heal us in body, mind, and spirit, that should we, like our honored dead, be called upon to respond to our nation’s call, we will be prepared to do so as faithfully as Your servants who for all time are memorialized here.

Ever mindful that all we are and have is bestowed upon us through Your bounty, we thank You. May the limitlessness of Your domain set the example that inspires our gratitude, as we pray that You will bestow upon us Your most precious gift, that of peace. Amen.

What thoughts or prayers do you have for our honored dead?

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When Words Speak Louder Than Actions

Being genuine about who you are and what you desire from life is the indispensable prerequisite to personal development. How can you live intentionally if your words and actions are out of sync?

When Words Speak Louder Than Actions

Thinking back to my navy training experiences, one stands out. After five weeks of Officer Indoctrination School, chaplains moved on to Chaplain School. About two-thirds of the way through the course we had AMEX, an outdoor training designed to prepare us for serving with the Marine Corps.

We went to a National Guard training camp and lived in tents. We ate MREs (meals ready-to-eat). Every day we hiked or ran the obstacle course (well, only the parts the leadership thought would not injure us). We even learned to dig a foxhole. For one exercise, in small groups, we had to run until the instructor yelled drop. At that point, we had to hit the dirt not matter what. My group decided we would purposely run through a flooded area knowing we would be told to drop in the water. When the order came we all belly flopped with our hands out, soaking ourselves but also anyone, including the instructor, who was nearby! Our actions didn't please him.

At the end of the seven days, we had a “Warrior Dinner.” After a week of MREs, we could have anything we wanted. People requested Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds. I asked for fresh fruit. The instructor’s chin virtually hit the deck.

“It’s a Warrior Dinner! You can’t have fruit!” Quietly I insisted I could, since the rules were we could have anything we wanted. After further pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth, he agreed.

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On the night of the dinner, probably thinking he'd teach me a lesson, he brought me a bag of fruit big enough to feed a platoon. After a week of highly processed food, I happily gorged on apples, oranges, and grapes

Then a funny thing happened. One by one my colleagues came by to ask me if I had any to spare. The chicken and hamburgers were fine, but the fruit was the icing on the cake.

Throughout Chaplain School the instructors preached that we had to be real with our sailors and Marines, which I took to mean genuine. Yet when I expressed my authentic desire for fruit at the Warriors Dinner, their actions pressured me to conform. Although lost on me at the time, the irony is evident now.

Even among those who advocate that you be real, they may try to mold you to their idea of what you should be. When you resist the pressure to conform applied by those who claim to support your authenticity, you will be firmly on the road to personal development and you are #LivingIntentionally.

How do resist the pressure to conform?

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