True Growth - The Natural Choice in Leader Development
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It's Nice to Have a Good Buddy

Freddy McFarren

March 2016

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Good leaders take care of themselves. Many do this by rugged physical fitness programs, eating right, good sleeping habits, taking time for hobbies, professional counseling and other means. Having a Good Buddy (a close friend) can be crucial to any process. The military has all sorts of proven programs to look after one's Physical Fitness, Mental Fitness, Spiritual Fitness and Emotional Fitness. A close Buddy can help with Mental/Emotional Fitness and maybe the other two as well.

In our daily lives we all face trials and tribulations. The profession of arms is a dangerous business as we tend to face frequent hazards. For the past decade service members and their families have dealt with a very demanding lifestyle. Preparing for deployments, deploying, combat operations and adjusting to redeployment have placed tremendous stress on the entire Military Community.

My cohort of leaders at an early time of our careers dealt with the Vietnam War. Other than the first units to arrive in Vietnam, replacements were provided on an individual basis. The mental preparation of service members and their families was not as well done as today. Maybe worse than the preparation was the manner soldiers were treated upon their return.

My West Point class had 30 of our classmates killed in Vietnam. About 25% of our class were wounded in that war. We were the young leaders. We were proud of our service in Vietnam but we paid a heavy price. I was an advisor to a Vietnamese Ranger Battalion. There were four of us with the 600 plus Vietnamese Rangers. My counterpart had been wounded seven times and was a very courageous leader. I greatly respected him. During my year with the Rangers we lost hundreds of those very dedicated young Vietnamese. No question the loss of my classmates, the loss of other friends and those young Vietnamese Rangers deeply touched me.

Our generation did not think much of Post Traumatic Stress, depression and anxiety, but it was there and we all dealt with it in some manner or fashion. The Army Medical Community and the Veteran's Administration did and still does a good job of taking care of veterans with serious issues. However, I strongly believe that most of us dealt with emotional issues by our interactions with our Buddies. We talked about things as we knew what we had all been through. We understood one another. We knew what we faced and were facing.

I know in my case having Buddies has been very meaningful to me. One key Buddy was a young Infantry Lieutenant with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam. For his actions during a major battle where he was wounded, he was awarded our nation's second highest award for valor. We talk on the phone often. We don't talk about Vietnam often but other life issues we all confront. Our families are close as well. I encourage all of you to think about this matter as most of you already have strong connections with fellow soldiers and friends.

My Buddy and his infantry platoon are still in close contact. He is still their LT (Lieutenant). Over the years they have helped each other through the good times and the tough times for some of them. This serves as a good example of how military reunions are so important to many service members. Their camaraderie during some hard and difficult times has become very crucial to them. Clearly a good example of the importance of interaction with one's Buddies.

The recent review about emotional issues from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have highlighted the fact people from all walks of life can face similar issues our military members are facing. Having family members, friends, and fellow workers who serve as a Buddy should be beneficial to our civilian counterparts as well.

Hard charging, well-meaning leaders can at times not pay enough attention to caring for themselves. Of course that is understandable and can be seen as admirable. Most of us have a Good Buddy we interact with frequently as we conduct our daily business. Taking just a little more time to talk about issues which are on a more serious basis could in the long run be healthy from a mental perspective. Most likely these discussions will be helpful for both of you. Good Buddies are a precious resource.

True Growth Takeaway: Mental and Emotional fitness are important and may need more attention.

True Growth Journal Question: What are some issues which I should discuss with my close friends?

About the author: Freddy McFarren served in the United States Army for over 37 years and retired as a Lieutenant General. The majority of his military career was spent leading and coaching soldiers at all levels and serving in operational/training positions. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and has a master's degree in counseling from Duke University. Since retiring he has served as a senior mentor for military exercises and classroom seminars.
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