Passing the torch to the next generation

Brad Thomas is one of the bravest men I’ve ever seen. I saw a lot of combat in my US Army career. I deployed on 17 combat tours in five different US wars during my career in Airborne and Ranger units. I’ve seen my share of bullets flying in both directions on these battlefields. 

To this day, one of the most extraordinary acts of heroism I’ve personally witnessed was depicted as almost a side note in the movie Black Hawk Down.

Unfortunately, the actor who portrayed Brad Thomas didn’t get a chance to show the world the courage this man displayed when he picked up his M249 SAW and jumped on the back of the convoy after barely surviving a brutal fight on the way back to the base.  This short scene doesn’t give audiences a chance to understand the absolute self-sacrifice it took for Brad to leave the relative security of the base and head back into what was considered certain death to rescue the crew of Mike Durant’s downed helicopter.

When Brad jumped on the back of the Humvees to go back into the city streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, it was the greatest act of valor I’ve witnessed in all my combat experiences. He was trading his life for the guys that were struggling to survive at this crash site. His act of courage stuck with me for the rest of my career as an Army Ranger.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one impacted by his bold actions on the battlefield. When Brad was traveling to Fort Benning, Georgia, to see his son through Basic Infantry Training, I paid him a compliment about this incident during my recent interview with him. (It took me 29 years to have this conversation. Yes, I’m a little slow, but better late than never.) Brad’s son was obviously heavily influenced by his father’s courage.

Seeing a son or daughter follow in a parent’s footsteps is humbling (and nerve-wracking if your line of work is dangerous). When Brad discussed his son’s choice to join the US Army, it got me thinking about leaving a legacy. I want to spend the rest of this article challenging you about passing the torch on to the next generation.

Who is following in your footsteps?

No one knows whether Brad’s son would be in the US Army right now if his father didn’t lead the way in this regard. As a talented collegiate football player with a bright mind, chances are he would have ended up in a very different career path from the military.

It has been said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” -meaning that it’s a high honor when someone wants to walk in your footsteps. To Brad’s credit, he didn’t try to push his son into the military. He allowed him to make his own plans. Moreover, he honored his son by reminding him that Brad didn’t expect him to follow in his footsteps.

Ask yourself, would you want someone you love dearly to follow exactly in your footsteps? If not, then maybe it’s time to change your path in life.

What kind of influence are you?

Everyone leaves an influence on someone. Most of us will leave a bigger influence than we can ever imagine. Some of the most powerful leadership influences in my life came from watching leaders, most of whom I didn’t work for personally. I remember taking mental notes about the good leadership I saw. I was determined to use those leadership examples in the future.

I also saw plenty of poor leadership. I also took personal note of what not to do in similar situations. 

These situations remind me of the power of poor leadership. The bad examples stuck with me long after the good memories faded. It’s fascinating how long these examples have influenced me as a leader. What’s even more intriguing is that most of these leaders had no idea I was watching them in these situations. Most of them are unaware of their influence on me and others around them. I’m confident this is true of every parent, boss, teacher, or leader. Most of our influence will be unknown to us, but highly influential to those around us.

This forces us all to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “What kind of influence am I making on the people around me?” Because we never stop influencing others, this is a good question to ask continually.

What will your legacy be?

This is one of the most powerful questions a human being will ever ask. Of all the creatures on earth, only humans have the capacity to leave an impact long after they’re dead. What will people say about you 150 years after you’re gone? This question should drive what you do tomorrow and for the rest of your life.

I feel confident that you’ve achieved your status in life because someone went before you to open some doors for you. Brad passed a torch to his son to carry on where he left off. Brad probably had no idea that his son was watching this incredible military career with the idea that he might serve in the US Army one day. 

To whom are you passing a torch to brighten their future? Your influence on the people around you will leave the world brighter because you passed through it or darker because of your influence on others. Decide today what kind of legacy you want to leave, and then go out daily and live that legacy. In doing so, you will light the way for the next generation.  

Listen to my whole interview with Brad HERE.

Further reading

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