I recently retired from military service. This column is a summation of my retirement ceremony remarks.
I started out seeking to fulfill the challenge issued by John F. Kennedy, to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Some themes emerge after 30 years.
First, “unto thy ownself be true.” While the military requires uniformity in standards, it needs to develop the unique talents that all individuals have. I had been told I needed to change my personality, and my career track, or face career limitations. I stayed true to myself and reached the rank of brigadier general.
Second, what’s really important are lives. When you face decisions that have the potential to result in lives saved or lost, the importance of other decisions start to pale. We often make things more important than they are.
Third, kindness and empathy. We are either made to help each other out in this life, or to take advantage of each other. If it is the latter, community and commonality will never happen. If it is the former, then we should never miss an opportunity to help others. You never know when you can brighten someone’s day with kindness, enabling them to be the best they can be.
Fourth, everything is in a state of change. During my service, threats, technology, alliances and even maps changed dramatically. There is a false comfort in wanting things to stay the same. Once things stop growing, they tend to die. We always need to adapt.
Fifth, teamwork. No doubt I had individual accomplishments, but what I will remember most is accomplishments by teams. Nothing really worthwhile is done individually, but as part of a larger effort – true in the military and true in the state Legislature. Getting to work with really talented people in a common purpose, channeling their unique talents and personalities, remembering what is important and looking out for each other.
An overshadowed team that I need to talk about that helped make all of that possible is my family.
Due to distance, weekend drills meant all of the weekend away. Add annual training, conferences, schools, and a deployment, and I was away for about 2 ½ years from my kids. While always in my thoughts, the absences were a challenge. If you come across military children, don’t tell them to be proud, or ask if they are proud, of their parents. Thank them for their sacrifice. I’m proud of my children, not just because of their academic and extracurricular accomplishments, but because of their character.
At a military dinner, one of my first dates with my future wife, someone asked if I was ready for the five months of military school coming up. It was an early sign that a relationship with me and the military was going to create challenges. Truly, military spouses serve their country. In addition to absences, their lives revolve around the Guard. Scheduling any activity requires taking Guard commitments into account.
Members of the military, like the society from which they derive, have a wide array of political beliefs, varying theological perspectives, and varying life experiences. Yet there are those who make their living sowing discord, telling us to view each other as a threat. We need leaders to bring our common interests, and we need people to resist the calls to division.
Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Have I done something for the common good? If so, then I have had my reward.”
Thirty years ago, I received my commission to do something for the common good. I’ve had the fortune to meet great people and serve in a way to uplift and support, and have had my reward.
Next week: Charese Yanney
A Sioux City resident, Steve Warnstadt is government affairs coordinator for Western Iowa Tech Community College and a former Democratic state senator. He and his wife, Mary, are the parents of one son and one daughter.