Another point to remember is that even though you are a key member of your organization, you are not indispensable. If you were to become sick for an extended period of time, your team very likely would discover how to get things done in your absence.
After Jenny and Danny’s deaths, the Marine Corps reassigned me to an Inspector-Instructor staff in Greenville, South Carolina, to assess my new role as a single parent while exploring the feasibility of still serving as a combat engineer. For four months, I visited various duty stations and met with leaders for advice on whether to resign my commission and get out of the Marine Corps or continue serving.
It was an incredible slap of reality that the Marine Corps didn’t stop functioning with Captain Danny White not serving as part of a combat engineer unit. The Corps didn’t grind to a halt. In fact, the Corps continued to march along—in fact, not even missing a beat—because Captain White was not on deck. I wish that I had written down this lesson learned and reviewed it consistently after deciding to continue serving on active duty.
This lesson learned aligns with an observation I made as a brand new Second Lieutenant and completing my initial officer training at The Basic School (TBS) at Quantico, Virginia. Our TBS class was tasked, as part of our drill and ceremonies training, to put on a sunset parade for retiring Marines.
I was selected to serve as a member of the parade staff and was standing out front of the formation in the center of the parade deck. From this position, I could see all the retiring Marines and their families and the medals, certificates, and flags presented to them.
One scene, that beautiful August evening, struck me and was forever burned into my memory. I saw a Marine standing by himself when it was his turn to be recognized. (For the record, this Marine may have been single his entire twenty-plus year career.) His retirement orders were read. His retirement award citation was read. The senior officer pinned the medal on his chest then handed him an American flag. Then the Marine stepped off smartly and returned to his assigned seat.
I remember thinking, “That would be so lonely to be at your retirement ceremony (after at least 20 years of service) and be standing there by yourself. I want my family to be there when I retire.”
What I failed to remember was to write down this significant lesson learned/observation. After joining my first active duty unit, I slowly turned into a workaholic. Then years later as a senior officer, I almost destroyed my marriage due to being a workaholic at the Pentagon. If I had not had a serious wake up call, I likely would have received another promotion and/or another medal, but would have been standing alone at my retirement ceremony—due to losing my family in the process.
Having my wife and children by my side at my retirement ceremony will always far outweigh another promotion or another medal. For the medals and rank insignia are packed up in a box in my closet. The relationships with my wife and children continue to grow stronger and stronger, for which I’m eternally grateful.