"Why Are You Here?"
Lawson W. Magruder III
Battalion command is the pinnacle for many military officers in their careers and I relished every day I spent leading America's finest young men and women.
In January 1985 I had been in battalion command for 19 months and knew that the completion of my two years in command was rapidly approaching. The culminating event was a major winter training exercise focused on the defense of Alaska. My light infantry/airborne outfit had been given the primary missions focused on defense of the critical nodes on the Alaska pipeline. We had trained quite hard for this mission for several months and I was very confident that we would succeed.
On the second day of this three-week exercise, I received an emergency phone call from my sister Anne in Austin, Texas. She told me over the phone that our Mom had gone into ICU with respiratory issues and I needed to come home. I explained to her that I was on a training exercise but she insisted that I needed to come home. After I hung up the phone, I told my wife Gloria about the phone call and she immediately said you need to go tell your brigade commander (my immediate supervisor) and your Commanding General that you need to catch a plane immediately and head home. I told Gloria I had a difficult time believing the severity of Mom’s illness and that I could go see her when the exercise was over. Gloria insisted that I needed to go home. But after hearing this sage advice from my precious wife, I still thought I was too valuable to my unit to be gone during this exercise. So I went to see my brigade commander and told him about the phone call and he said “you do what you need to do Lawson and I will support you." I then went up to see our Commanding General, Brigadier General Jerry Bethke. Jerry knew me well as I had worked for him in a Ranger battalion many years prior. I figured he would agree with the brigade commander and leave it up to me.
I confidently walked into Jerry Bethke’s office and told him about the phone call from my sister and fully expected him to endorse any decision I made. To my surprise, he looked me in the eyes and said “Lawson, why are you here? Why would you question your sister and Gloria’s judgment? You get on a plane immediately and go home to your Mom. She needs you at her side right now. That’s your primary mission in life right now, not this training exercise. We're going to truly find out how good your battalion is while you're gone. You have trained them well and I predict they will excel in your absence. Move out and catch a plane immediately."
The next day I obeyed my General’s “order" and I flew home to Austin. The next five days were a very special time for our family as we sat in the hospital room supporting Dad and reminiscing and expressing our love to Mom. On the fourth day, Mom seemed to be out of the woods and doing much better. She told each of us to head back to our families and me to my training exercise. I said a tearful farewell and returned to Alaska. Within a couple of hours of my return, Anne called me again and said that Mom had passed away.
I've often wondered, what if I had not returned to Austin to be with Mom. What guilt and regret I would've carried with me to this day if a compassionate, understanding Jerry Bethke had not asked me: “Why are you here?"
PS- In my absence, my beloved Warrior Battalion under the command of my executive officer excelled on the exercise.
True Growth Takeaway:
Success at the expense of family relationships is really failure.
How can you ensure in the future that your self-interests and ego don’t get in the way of the much higher priority of focusing on the needs of others? Particularly those you love.
About the Author:
Founder and Managing Member of LWM III Consulting LLC, Lawson W. Magruder III has been coaching professionals, mentoring leaders and building highly effective teams for more than four decades. He led soldiers in combat in Vietnam and Somalia and as a general officer he commanded three large Army organizations to include the historic 10th Mountain Division. Retiring as a Lieutenant General after 32 years of service, he transitioned into the corporate and academic cultures building enduring research partnerships in the homeland security arena, publicly sharing his leadership journey at seminars and conferences, serving as an executive coach for leaders in the federal and private sectors, and a senior mentor for Army leaders and units. Among his numerous awards, he is a member of the US Army Ranger Hall of Fame. He has been married to Gloria for over 42 years and they are blessed to have three children and four grandchildren.