2014’s BikeMS is just two days away; everything is coming together for Team Amulet! 33 team riders are preparing. Out of town teammates have started to arrive while locals are putting final touches on their bikes, gear, and packing lists. Tomorrow, we will begin to assemble down in Monmouth, OR to join with the MS Society staff and hundreds of other riders. From that point until Sunday afternoon our only focus will be to ride, rest, and celebrate our collective efforts to make multiple sclerosis a distant memory!
My 32 teammates were feverishly preparing while I spent the early morning reading.
My source of intrigue was an academic paper, written in 1990 by John C. Bahnsen and Robert W. Cone, titled “Defining the American Warrior Leader” (Parameters, Fall 1990). What does a paper written for the U.S. Army War College have to do with BikeMS? Everything.
My feverish preparation was a reminder of why I ride.
Let me explain.
25 years ago I was a plebe at West Point. During the summer of 1989, my classmates and I were new cadets attending “Beast Barracks”. Beast was Army basic training, total West Point immersion, and college freshman orientation all rolled up together. Overwhelmed is an understatement to describe how I felt! I was one of over 1,300 plebes just trying to keep our heads above water. Our greatest strength often came in the form of Old Grads, our alumni. These grads survived Beast, went on to graduate, and served as officers in our military. They often led our nation’s soldiers in combat, some fighting the toughest battles under the most demanding conditions. It was lessons they learned at West Point that helped shape them into the leaders our nation needed them to be. Upon calling, they returned to West Point for the purpose of passing forward those lessons and their wisdom, just as they were taught years prior.
One of my teachers in July of that year was John C. Bahnsen.
Brigadier General John C. Bahnsen (Retired), West Point Class of 1956, shared with us his ethos of “Want To”. It is his summary of the mental readiness needed to generate inspiring leadership. In a fight, you don’t have time to develop “Want To”, nor is there time to instill it in others. “Want To” has to be part of your moral character. You must be willing to maintain complete perseverance, endure challenging setbacks, and bypass more glamorous qualities. Only then can you “compose the total makeup of the American warrior leader” that General Bahnsen and Captain Robert W. Cone (General, Retired), Class of 1979, helped define in their paper. 16 years have passed since I first read this paper, an assignment during my own Army training. “Want To” and the American Warrior Leader are interchangeable echoes of the same message.
I only offer a taste of what General Bahnsen’s description of “Want To” was. I would never even consider trying to replicate that message. General Bahnsen and Captain Cone offer more clarity in their paper, but the message still escapes direct translation. When General Bahnsen spoke to our class about the spirit, character and obligations that an officer has in our Army his intention was never for us to memorize a definition of “Want To”. He wanted us to learn and develop our own “traits of the ideal American warrior”.
I’m 14-years separated from the US Army, medically retired after my diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. What remains clear, more than the ribbons, awards, and collected memorabilia I have I storage, are the lessons I learned from thousands of soldiers I served with throughout my career. “Want To” may be the greatest lesson of them all.
Today, after a most difficult winter, the mental readiness and inspiring leadership aspects in General Bahnsen and Captain Cone’s definition of a “warrior leader'” reign true more than ever for me. The message was never about winning… that’s the end objective. The message is about having the “Want To” needed to do absolutely everything that’s required before we win; to endure and persevere in the face of unyielding opposition. The message is about truly living my mantra of Never Stop… Never Quit…
I sat in the hospital yesterday, undergoing several examinations for my latest round MS issues and reminiscing on General Bahnsen’s “Want To” speech during plebe summer. I reached out and chatted online with several of my classmates, hoping their memories would spark more clarity and detail on the event. None of us seemed to memorize the definition of “Want To”, but I've known these men and women for 25 years now. I have seen them demonstrate their own unique traits of that ideal American warrior. Just like in their examples, I realize that “Want To” remains ingrained in my spirit.
I've experienced many challenging setbacks in my fight with MS, and I will assuredly endure more. My willingness to maintain complete perseverance in this fight is the reason I will ride with Team Amulet again this weekend. I’ll ride Saturday and Sunday, celebrating our collective efforts to make multiple sclerosis a distant memory. Monday morning I’ll be back at the hospital for more testing to try and gain clarity of my new issues, hoping to halt or lessen the damage.
Riding will be my leadership and motivation, strengthening my own body and encouraging others to join us. My stories will allow me to advocate for all of us fighting this disease, spreading awareness and putting a face on the fight with MS. My fundraising efforts will help support the research needed to defeat MS and to help treat those like me, who are suffering from the debilitating effects.
Winning is the end objective. My “Want To” is for the fight.
It will never stop….nor will we
It will never quit….nor will we
This is why we ride
Kevin Byrne - Portland, OR