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Flying with the Eagles

On Friday, August 25th at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, I had the privilege of attending a dear friend and West Point classmate’s retirement from the Army Reserves, Dan York. He had achieved a high pinnacle of success retiring as a Major General and Reserve Advisor to NORAD and USNORTHCOM. His retirement ceremony was packed with friends going back to childhood and the four-star Commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM, General Lori J. Robinson presided over the ceremony. General Robinson despite her busy and demanding schedule took well over 30 minutes to talk about Dan through the lens of scholar, warrior and leader and without a single note in her hand, she adeptly took us through the many and significant accomplishments of Dan’s life. She also made a point to talk about the many sacrifices that Dan’s family had made over the 36 years that Dan has faithfully served the military to include talking about Dan’s father and father-in-law who are both WWII veterans. After her authentic and extensive honoring of Dan’s success and service, she passed the baton to Dan who then gave one of the most inspiring talks about servant leadership that I have heard in some time. Dan talked about four qualities that I believe he has worked hard to embody in his journey as a husband, father, son, brother, Church Pastor, and military leader. The first quality he spoke of was love and the importance of love in how we lead, inspire and serve others. Dan reflected on the rare use this of word when we talk of leadership in the workplace and yet, he reminded us that love is one of the greatest forces on earth for positive change and good. The second quality was discipline and at its core was the willingness and accountability to live one’s life to a higher standard. Dan spoke about how he always made sure he told those he worked with about his spiritual beliefs. Not to impress or to lecture them but instead that they understood where he stood on issues but so theiy could hold him accountable for his actions. Dan wants to walk with integrity. His third quality was that of gratitude and how when you or I are in a state of gratitude, it is much easier to stay positive, enthusiastic and hopeful for what has and what is to come. His fourth quality was humility and how this quality was a foundational element of staying focused not on the leader’s needs but on the needs of those who are served and being led. In all, Dan’s and General Robinson’s words were moving, edifying and inspiring. I have known Dan reasonably well over the last 20 years as our lives have crossed many paths. In complete transparency, I have been a financial supporter of Dan’s civilian work as an International Pastor and Church builder and I have been blessed to receive Dan’s spiritual writings that would also help people like me stay connected with Dan’s life and ministry. I wish I could tell you that I am an incredibly generous man with many causes that bear my financial support but the truth is, I have only steadily and faithfully supported just a handful of causes over the years and have enthusiastically supported Dan not so much because of his ministry but because of the deep integrity in which Dan lives and the strength of character he reflects. Selfishly, I have wanted to stay in Dan’s life because having a friend like Dan just makes you want to be a better human being. So, as I stepped back from some of the details of Dan’s retirement to include a wonderful dinner where characteristically after the food was served, Dan spent well over an hour honoring just about everyone who has played some role in his life, I reflected on this wonderful gathering. At least a dozen of my West Point Classmates were in attendance as well as other colleagues, teammates, family and friends that had journeyed with Dan throughout his journey and the themes of duty, honor, country and faith just kept echoing in my mind. I thought of that ancient adage, “you are known by the friends that you keep” and that old fable of how a turkey found itself in a flock of eagles and over time with enough conditioning, how the turkey came to see itself as an eagle. As I left Colorado Springs yesterday to return home, I felt that for a good ten hours I was getting to fly with eagles and resolved and inspired to stand a little taller, prouder, and more committed to living a virtuous life as a husband, father, brother, and executive coach and teacher. In these times when the headlines often reflect lapses of leadership, character and integrity, gathering with people like Dan and other virtuous classmates and colleagues just makes you want to be more like them. I also reflected on the great privilege that I received in having the good fortune to attend a place like West Point where the virtues of duty, honor, country were being taught and role modeled every day. Leading with Integrity-that’s my dear friend, Dan York. Thanks Dan for walking in the light! 

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