Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Prologue


When I finally pen the story of Never Stop…Never Quit… detailing my fight with and victory over MS, this will be the prologue.  All of my actions since this day have been rooted in these moments.

Kevin Byrne - Portland, OR

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May, 1993.  West Point, New York.

It was a rare event: a lazy Saturday afternoon with nothing on the schedule.  I was a cadet at the United States Military Academy, preparing to graduate later that month as a member of the Class of 1993.  As I stepped out of the barracks area on that sunny spring day, I paused to admire the view that I had called home for the last four years.  Looking onto “The Plain,” a 12-acre parade field just past the statues of General Douglas MacArthur (Class of 1903) and Colonel Sylvanus Thayer (Class of 1808), I felt that familiar sense of awe realizing I would soon join The Long Grey Line of so many graduates preceding me.

Just off to the side of Thayer Monument was a sightseeing tour group, a common springtime site.  The Commandant of Cadets, Brigadier General Robert Foley (Class of 1963), was leading the group through a short history of the academy they were visiting.  At the time, General Foley was one of three Medal of Honor recipients still serving on active duty, having earned the award for inspiring leadership while commanding his company during a fierce battle near Quan Dau Tieng, Republic of Vietnam, in 1966.  He described the tenets of dedication and leadership that are instilled into young cadets from the very start and how that dedication consistently shines in generation after generation of military leaders coming out of West Point.  As part of this he shared several poignant examples of Americans in combat, relentless onslaughts of overwhelming enemy forces collapsing onto weary bands of brave soldiers led by graduates of our alma mater. 

“They will never stop. They will never quit.”  

He repeated that phrase over and over as he shared examples of the tactical, mental, and physical challenges many young graduates faced while leading soldiers in combat.

Needless to say, it was quite stirring. 

At times, “they will never stop…” referred unrelenting attacks of the enemy.  At other times, the young Army officers and soldiers they led earned that credit.  

Hearing this crystallized everything I had been taught over the past four years: the dedication and strength to continue the fight come from understanding your enemy’s intent.  If left on their course, the enemy would never stop and would never quit. If unrepelled, they would drive through and defeat you, moving to attack again and continue their assault on another.  It was the duty of leaders to understand the drive of their enemy and to face them. 
Their enemy would never stop, nor could they.  
Their enemy would never quit, nor could they.  
They must fight until that drive was defeated.

Fighting takes on countless forms.  Regardless of the uncertainty, leaders need to be prepared for whatever fight they may face.  General Foley told the group how cadets must always understand why they are here and what their training is preparing them for:
  • Leading soldiers, keeping them safe, multiplying the power of our forces.
  • Always training, always preparing.  Ensuring both soldiers and leaders are ready for the next fight.
  • Caring for their soldiers and themselves: physically, mentally, and morally.  These are the most valuable needs in every fight.
A few weeks later, I was one of 1,003 cadets who graduated.  On that spring afternoon I felt as if General Foley was telling these stories in order to personally charge me to never stop and to never quit.

I never forgot his lesson.

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