Monday, September 13, 2010

Col. Phil Bruce's Final Promotion

From Dad's pictures
The words of a Sheryl Crow song caught my ear today.  Even though it was unrelated to death, it has an uncanny correlation:

But is there someplace far away, someplace where all is clear
Easy to start over with the ones you hold so dear
Or are we left to wonder, all alone, eternally
But is this how it's really meant to be?

Thanks to Christ, we aren't left to wonder why.  1Thess. 4:13: "But we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve like other people who have no hope."  

It looks like I will be sharing a eulogy at my father's services.  While it is not easy to reflect on his passing, I think it is theraputic to do so.

Col. Philip Bruce was a classic, best-of-the-best, old-school Air Force officer.  Although he retired when I was very young, and I never really got to see him during his prime years in the Air Force, he never lost his sense of military honor, discipline, and courtesy.  He did not treat his Air Force rank and pilot wings as a job, but as a supreme calling.  He gave the Air Force all of his time and energy, and he was rewarded greatly.

Not only was he a quintessential officer on and off the job, he was also very humble.  He didn't talk much about the prestigious positions and awards he received in his 27 years of service.  In fact, I didn't realize how amazing his AF career was until I asked him as a teenager.  He never made a big deal of being a pilot, and most of the people he interacted with never knew his rank.

I will always remember Dad as a guiding influence on my life.  His understanding of science and technology helped me to see the world in that light, and encouraged me to consider studying engineering.  Talking with him about tools, cars, and airplanes gave me a solid foundation for intuitive understanding of technological areas.  He helped me understand the basics of math and science, and I am grateful for this every time I use scientific notation, unit analysis, or any number of other skills in college coursework.

Last week in Air Science class, we discussed how the Air Force is not merely a job, but is best viewed as a profession, with all the dedication and responsibility that a true profession requires.  Reading in preparation for the class, I realized that because of Dad's example, I already knew the dedication required for a successful AF career years before I ever joined AFROTC.  I knew that an Air Force career comes only second to God and family.  It is a calling, just like being a pastor or missionary.  It is fulfilling, worth investing years of whole-hearted time and effort.  Commissioning as an officer isn't a take-it-or-leave-it, see-how-it-goes experiment, it's a go/no go decision point in life that will require total dedication.  Without being harsh or demanding, while still being a consummate gentleman, he prepared me for the sacrifice and commitment that the military requires.

Through two years in the program, and four weeks of intense training in Alabama and Mississipi, I never once questioned whether I wanted to stay in ROTC.  I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt, and when I heard that Dad's health was failing two weeks in as I was in Mississipi, it was truely surreal.  The man who inspired me to take this course, to go where I was being yelled at and challenged 24/7, was about to pass into the next life.  I think part of the reason that I was able to stay strong and finish well was because I knew it was what he would have done if he were in my boots.

Ever since the afternoon of 19July, when I got called out of that mission debrief by my CO and advised of my dad's possible passing, I have worn my dad's dogtags as a symbol of my devotion to our common cause.

I guess what I'm trying to say is actually one of the best things that could be said of a retired officer - years after retirement, he was still an officer whose very aura automatically instilled qualities and characteristics in his children - qualities that the Air Force has to alternately teach, critique, and yell into cadet's heads through years of training.

Col. Philip Bruce, even though we never crossed paths in uniform, I salute you.  It was an honor to observe and be influenced by your life, and I would like to think that Grandpa was with Peter at the gates as you reported in to your final duty station.


Link to pictures from Dad's life and career:

Friday, September 10, 2010

LOL ... too much?

Life can get way too real and serious at times.  And after a week of classes, Fridays can definately fall under that description.  This is when you grab a friend, and head to the movies for a good comedy.

Tonight's selection was Grown Ups, a movie with all-stars of comedy like Rob Schneider, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock.  The retorts and one-liners were nearly constant, and although it got out of hand sometimes, the movie had a really satisfying ending.

One of the cool things to me about a comedy is listening to the audience respond to the zingers that the actors deliver.  I enjoy getting caught up in the laughter, and maybe it's my extensive Simpsons/Family Guy viewing, but I found alot of the physical comedy in the movie to be pretty hilarious.

So much so that I began to worry that I might be laughing too much.  Maybe I was embarassing my friend, because I really was enjoying myself.  I didn't want to be "that guy", the awkward laugh-er.

Later this evening, as I think about the great experience I had at the movie, I realize how stupid my concern was.  Laughing too much at a movie like Grown Ups???  I guess crying would be out of the norm, but laughing is why we went, and probably why most people went on a Friday night.  In any college town, after three weeks of classes everyone is ready to forget about life and get some good entertainment.

From Blogger Pictures

I think it's pretty natural to be concerned with what people think of you.  But I'll put myself in a category of people who just might be a little too worried of others' opinions.  If I'm not careful, I'll spend too much time worrying about what people think of me, as if everyone around me is constantly evaluating me.

One of the prerequisites for a healthy friendship is a sense of acceptance.  In order to have true friends, you have to feel welcome in their presence.  You have to be comfortable as your true self.  You can't feel that you have to do something or become someone in order to keep your friendships going.  You have to be comfortable enough to share yourself without feeling judged.

This idea of acceptance in relationships moves from the important to the inspirational as we bring this discussion into the spiritual realm.  Many Christians have not fully accepted the principle of grace.  While they may not live in fear of God's anger, they are constantly afraid that they do not measure up to God's expectations of them as believers.  They are living "on the edge", feeling the need for complete repentance for every sin they commit.  And they begin to obsess over their failures until that consumes their life and they are unable to achieve any measure of success.

While we know the facts of salvation, many of us view salvation purely in the past tense.  We forget that the simple step of trusting in Christ, which began our spiritual journey, is also the principle that keeps it going.  Instead of worrying about what we need to do or become, we need to remember who we are in Christ - fully accepted - choose to believe this, and to live in this assurance.

Interestingly, our culture uses the term "making one's peace with God" to describe what one does while dying.  Seems like this idea of having peace with God, complete calm in our relationship with our Maker, would be a cornerstone of living as well.

The exchanged life, this acceptance of our perfection in Christ, is the only basis on which we can live and pray boldly.  Once we have this understanding, we can face the challenges of life knowing that God is on our side.  With this knowledge in practice, we don't have to be anything for God.  We don't have to do anything to earn His favor.  Through Christ, we can live our lives knowing that God accepts us completely.

I know this was alot of theological discussion, but if you've made it this far, let me just sum it up in this way.

If you're in a healthy relationship with God and others, you can sit in through Grown Ups, and laugh away to your heart's content, knowing that God is in heaven, and all's right with the world.

Go try it.  Next Friday night, I'm going to let the laughter come as it will.  It might even make next week's homework a little more bearable!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Leadership - Bring Your A-Game!!!

I've spent the past two years in AFROTC taking orders, and I've gotten quite used to it. I enjoy being assigned a task, and doing well at it. It's always easier than a college alternative such as another math test.

This summer, I went to Field Training, AFROTC's version of boot camp.  As with all intense military training, there was plenty of yelling and on-the-spot correction. As you stand at attention with your back to the wall, listening to cadets around you get chewed out for minor errors (and get some words your way too), you start to think that the senior cadets yelling at you really have it made. Honestly, who wouldn't want to spend a few minutes as a drill seargent?
(I'm back right.  Can't you see I'm having a boatload of fun?)

It's not all yelling in AFROTC. Most time is spent in calmer training modes. And as I have spent two years in this training, I have noted positives and negatives of the cadets over me. So after Field Training, I wasn't really wanting to yell at the freshman and sophomores. I wanted to be a good quality mentor/trainer, taking the years of experience that I have and giving them quality instruction. Trying to implement continual process improvement in AFROTC training.

It's harder than it seems. We're two weeks into drill instruction, and it's been an eye-opening two weeks.

You take something as simple as drill and ceremony. You can't just instruct it how you learned it. While you are learning from someone else, you just have to track with them and follow what they say. You have to go with their flow, and react to what's going on around you.

When the tables turn and everyone is looking at you for instruction, you have to create the flow. You have to create the training environment, from the ground up. You have to look at the faces of those you are instructing, and read them to see if they are catching on to what you are saying, and when you see their blank stares, you have to adjust to meet them where they are.  At times you stumble for words and race in your mind to remember a regulation or procedure.

Three drill sessions in, and I am starting to get my footing. I have had three groups of cadets who need remedial drill instruction before they join the rest of the cadets in practice. I have worked with other experienced cadets to provide quality instruction for them, and each time I have gotten a little more confident in my new leadership capacity.

There comes a time when everybody gets to move up the ladder of power and authority. Just so happens, its a LOT less stable the higher you climb.


If you're going to lead others, bring your A game! It's harder than it looks!

Friday, September 3, 2010

When life throws you a curve ball ...

Music seems to do a very good job of describing my life.  Weird Al's "It's All About the Pentiums," describes my life as an engineering student, especially the line "They call me the King of the Spreadsheets, I've got 'em all printed out on my bedsheets." :)  In my first post on this blog, I commented on how the Eagles are the perfect sound track for my road trip adventures.

I added to this transitory theme in my music yesterday.  When you have a convertible and fall rolls around, you can't resist dropping the top and cranking the tunes while driving top down through campus.  I was looking for upbeat music to blast through the Bose speakers, when I ran across a 2008 ski-trip playlist.

"Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol was in the mix.  It is a great song, branching from typical rock music to include some deeper thoughts.  Especially the line 

"If I lay here, if I just lay here, 
would you lie with me 
and just forget about the world? ...
I don't quite know how to say 
how I feel.  
Those three words are said too much, 
they're not enough."

Listening to this song brought back fond memories of Karen and me on a later road trip to Kingman, AZ.  We were reviewing our ski trip favorites, and listened over and over to this song, catching the lyrics through the heavy instrumentation and memorizing the song in the process.

From Blogger Pictures

As my Dad has been having severe health problems over the past five years, I have divided my life into work and recreation, the Weird Al and Eagles partitions of my life.  I have really ignored the Chasing Cars portion.

Not all of life is cut and dried.  Sometimes we feel lost, disoriented.  We don't know how to feel, and when we try to express our feelings to those around us, alot is said but it just isn't enough.

The words of this song really spoke to me on that lazy Thursday afternoon.  I have been trying to work through the implications of the passing of my Dad, whenever in the future it happens.  Particularly how I involve my friends in that part of my life.

Only this past summer, as Dad entered his most recent decline, have I chosen to face the idea of his passing.  So this new idea is even more difficult to work with as I renew my friendships with my school friends, and try to decide who I should update on his status.

Snow Patrol has it right.  Sometimes we just want go outside, lie in the grass, forget about everything in the world, and try to sort out our feelings.  And it isn't a logical, mathematical process.  

But it doesn't have to be.  This is part of life - not the busy, productive part, or the fun-loving part.  It's in the middle - actually in a whole 'nother dimension - where we fight our demons and wrestle with our past, present, and future.  

For all the talk about prayer I have heard in my 22 years of church attendance, precious little is centered on the Lord's Prayer, which was His response to his disciples' direct request, "Teach us to pray."  Seems like this should be the central framework of prayer, where we get our most important prayer lessons.

The Lord's Prayer was one of the Scriptures that I mulled over at Field Training, that helped me to get through standing at attention with sweat dripping down my face, that comforted me during the days that Dad's life hung in the balance 1500 miles away.

As far as the dimension of our life filled with personal struggle, that part is at times incomprehensible, The Lord's Prayer gently redirects us from our self-centeredness, and invites us to become part of the greater plan that God has, not just for our life but the whole universe. 

"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven ... for Thine is the kingdom, and the glory, and power, forever ... AMEN!"

Snow Patrol and The Lord's Prayer ... wonderful thoughts for a Thursday afternoon of making Ipod playlists!