Captain’s Log: What It Means To Be a Veteran

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

When my friend, Gary Tedder asked me to give a presentation on what it means to me to be a military veteran I was caught off guard. No one has ever asked me about that. And now 30 years after having left the military it’s just not a part of what I do or how I live from day to day. Which means that I just hadn’t thought about that particular question in those particular terms.

But sit to think about it I did. And it didn’t take long after I sat down for me to realize that what we do as veterans is we live our lives… and we remember. We remember… and we live our lives.

On Veterans’ Day in 2019 I was on a layover in Palm Springs. I’d never been there before in my life, so I had no idea where to get breakfast. Of course, like any good baby boomer, I asked “the google.” And “the google” suggested I try out a place called “Pinochio In the Desert.”

As I walked the few blocks to Pinochio’s, I was feeling particularly grateful to be an airline pilot. The skies were clear and blue in the Palm Desert, and the air was a balmy 78 degrees. At the same time, my family and friends in Denver were dealing with the fifth snow event of the year.

The restaurant was open to the air, and I was seated along a rail at the front of the dining room. The sidewalk was just on the other side of the rail, so I was in a great place to watch the patriots of Palm Springs walking up and down the street in their red, white, and blue regalia, and all the American flags waving over the store fronts. And from my corner of the restaurant I could watch the patrons coming and going, and the wait staff as they went from table to table, doing their thing.

In this particular restaurant the servers wore black. Except for one guy who was wearing a white t-shirt. There was an American flag on the front of the shirt, with the words, “United We Stand, 9/1/2001.”

If you were alive and old enough to notice statement t-shirts in the fall of 2001 you remember that shirt. It was everywhere. But as I sat  in that restaurant I hadn’t seen one for a long, long time. Not only had I not seen one being worn, but I hadn’t even seen one for sale anywhere in decades.

The server with the t-shirt was not my server. But I had noticed the shirt, and I casually kept an eye on him as he moved around the room. And it gradually dawned on me that his t-shirt was really white! Which was remarkable, because I had to think it was maybe 18 years old. And I know what my white t-shirts look like after just a few washings – they don’t stay particularly white for very long. But this server’s t-shirt looked like it was new.

So I finished my breakfast and paid the tab. But as I was leaving, I felt compelled to introduce myself and ask the server about his shirt.

He explained that, “no, the t-shirt is not new. In fact, you’re right, it is actually 18 years old. But I only wear it twice a year: on Veterans Day, and again on Memorial Day. And in the days in between, it stays folded neatly in a drawer, and I live my life.”

“And on the days that I wear it, it helps me, and those around me, to remember.”

A few days later, as I sat wondering what in the world I could bring to my friend Gary and his “Cor2Cor Net-giving Group” in Denver, I thought about my new friend, Robert, the server, and I recognized that he is a perfect picture for what it means, at least to me, to be a veteran.

I didn’t ask him – I wish I had – if he’d worn the military uniform. But it became obvious to me that he has worn his love of our country every six months for the last 18 years. He lives his life, then he stops to look back and remember. He remembers, then he looks forward, and lives his life.

In my own case, I had the honor and privilege of wearing the uniform of our country. It shaped who I am today. Now as a veteran all these years later, I live my life from day to day. And every once-in-a-while something takes me back to that time, and I stop to remember. Having remembered then, I look forward, and live my life.

Veterans Day is one of those somethings. It gives us all a reason to stop. Look back. And remember. With gratitude for the sacrifices that have made today’s lives possible. And then, having remembered, we can look forward and live our lives.

There is a scene at the end of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” where one of the heroes, who is dying of his wounds, looks to a very young Ryan, and says, “Earn this.” I think of that scene on days like Veterans Day. And I pledge again to myself and all those veterans who have sacrificed on my behalf, that I will live a life worthy of their sacrifices.

November 11th is Veterans Day. Let’s stop, and remember. And beginning again on November 12th, let’s live our lives.

Thanks for reading.

Captain Mark

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#stayintheprocess #symphonyofyourlife

 
 

 

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com for information.

 

Captain’s Log: Practicing What We Preach

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

March, 2021

Every so often I find myself in front of a room wearing my corduroy blazer with leather elbow patches rather than my uniform jacket with four stripes. On some of those occasions my conversation with my audience revolves around their need and ability to be kind to themselves. Shortly thereafter something inevitably happens to challenge me, and I have to ask myself whether or not I really believe what I tell the audience. Am I willing to do that for myself? Today I invite you to join me in that self-reflection. Do you need to be more kind to yourself? Are you even able?

Back in the summer of 2017, when I was a brand-new captain, I had a bad night. I remember it well. I also remember my visit with my Chief Pilot asking him about what I might have done better. Some things just stick in your memory.

It was significant enough that I wrote the following essay. No idea why I never published it. I imagine I may have set it aside, fully intending to come back and finish it, got distracted by other writing projects, and just forgot about it. But now, after more than 3 years as a captain with over 900 flights (and way more than 100,000 passengers!) under my belt I can think of a few things I would likely do differently given the opportunity. I’m glad that I chose to “#stayintheprocess.”

And I feel compassion for the guy who wrote this.

These years later, in my opinion there’s still good stuff in it. I hope it might still inspire you, and that you’ll enjoy it. Here you go!

August, 2017

Two weeks ago I was the hero. This weekend I was the goat. Another dark and stormy night in Newark, and I failed my passengers. A series of unfortunate events that started with a line of thunder storms shutting down the airport for several hours ended badly for us. As the airport re-opened for arrivals, the company needed my gate, so I had to push off knowing I’d sit on the tarmac for at least an hour before I could take off. New as I was, with two hours still on my duty clock, I thought all would be well.

It wasn’t. As time passed without movement toward the runway, if I’d known then what I know now, I shoulda, coulda, woulda bugged my operations controller in Newark, my dispatcher in Chicago, the air traffic controllers with whom I was already in radio contact, for a different flight plan, different departure route, or higher departure priority as my duty day relentlessly decayed. Sadly, I didn’t know then what I know now.

We canceled.

But could I have really affected the outcome? What if I’d acted, become airborne, then had to divert? What if I’d asked all the right questions and all the answers had been no? Same outcome. But I’m second-guessing myself because I didn’t think in time to even try. And here I am beating myself up about unknown outcomes.

Do you do that?

Here’s the thing: Conor McGregor says, “We win or we learn.” A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of “winning.” This weekend I had the opportunity to “learn.” I’m new to the plane, the pace, the environment, the weather, duty time constraints. It’s a very real learning curve. I feel guilty that my passengers had to pay for my learning. And the reality is that stuff happens with frequency in the domestic operation. And it has happened on my flights: this was not my first cancellation. But it was the first one where I felt like I could have done better.

On the other hand, am I beating myself up too hard? Another reality is that in the short time I’ve been a captain I’ve carried more than five thousand passengers to the places they’ve needed to go. So I’ve decided to give myself grace and space to learn from this. To get better at what I do. To pick up the ability to see sooner so I’m not bitten by these same issues again. So I can get my passengers where they want to go despite the weather, the company, the FAA.

It’s been a challenge to learn the new airplane, the new environment, the new pace. There have been moments where I’ve asked myself, “what was I thinking leaving my very comfortable B-777? After 15 years I could make that baby sing!” Do I want to go back? Or do I want to stay in the process and get good at this new thing?

This, I have decided, is where I need to be for this season. So it’s the latter course for me. I will stay in the process and work to become the captain that my passengers need me to be. And give myself permission to learn. Sooner, rather than later, I expect to be just as good as I was on the 777.

Have you been “the goat” recently? Are you beating yourself up too hard? Can you maybe give yourself grace to learn from what went wrong rather than falling into the trap of second-guessing? The inspirational speaker in me says of course you can. I hope my story helps you know that.

#YouCanYouJustNeedToKnowYouCan      #StayInTheProcess

Thanks for reading!

Captain Mark

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Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com. 720.840.8361