Think You Can’t Change The World? Don’t Believe It Reply

By Chris Simmons

What words do you use to describe a man who cashed in his retirement pension to fund – and serve with – volunteers who flew high-risk Search & Rescue missions?

In the early 1990s, Cubans were so desperate to flee their prison-homeland that tens of thousands attempted to cross the Straits of Florida. However, the 93 miles between Key West and Havana are notoriously dangerous. The Cuban Navy would capture and tow escaping rafters back to the island or worse, sink their vessel and leave survivors to die at sea. Sharks were a constant threat.

And finally — the wind. Lacking money for any kind of motor, rafters were at the mercy of the trade winds. If the winds blew the wrong way or a rafter’s navigation was off – they were condemned to a slow, lingering death in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.

Living in the Florida Keys, Matt Lawrence refused to be a bystander to this human tragedy. He teamed up with three friends to fly their own rescue missions. The locals quickly dubbed them “Los Gringos con Corazon” – “The White Guys with Heart.” Matt’s pension paid for their equipment, fuel, and other necessities, but at a cost of roughly $1000 per mission, they needed to stretch every penny. To enhance their ability to save lives, the friends created the nonprofit group, Freedom Flight International.

Matt racked up over 500 hours of flight time during the next several years. Over the course of three “rafter seasons,” which ran from late spring through summer’s end, he flew an estimated 75-100 rescue missions.

Flying in search of rafters was inherently dangerous. Partnering with sister groups, Los Gringos and two or three other planes would fly abreast of one another, about five miles between each aircraft. The sheer size of the Florida Straits forced them to fly low since rafters left Cuba on lashed-together inner tubes or almost anything else that would float. Upon finding a rafter(s), they descended to 50-100 feet above the water, an extremely dangerous task at 130 miles an hour. The low altitude was necessary so they could drop emergency aid, communicate with the survivors, and assess the situation. After a mission, countless additional hours were spent on plane maintenance, prepping for the next flight, and training.

Matt Lawrence and the rest of Los Gringos stopped flying in August 1994 – the month President Bill Clinton reversed US policy and ordered the Coast Guard to repatriate every Cuban rafter found at sea. The exodus was over.

In the course of three short years, Los Gringos con Corazon helped save 511 rafters.

Matt Lawrence did what he felt was necessary to save lives. He asked and expected nothing in return. Some may see his actions as reckless – his girlfriend did – she walked out on him because of his rescue efforts. Looking back, he sees his sacrifices as wholly justified – and I trust 511 Cuban-Americans would agree with him.

Now a best-selling author and dive instructor, Matt Lawrence is also a former treasure hunter and aficionado of sea-recovered artifacts. He lives quietly in Summerland Key, a few islands to the east of the madness that is Key West.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead   

The sad sight that Matt Lawrence called "A Tombstone at Sea."

An empty raft — a sight Matt Lawrence called “A Tombstone at Sea.”

"Los Gringos con Corazon" on a mission with "Brothers to the Rescue." From left to right, Thomas Van Hare, Conrad Webber, Steve Walton, Matt Lawrence.

Los Gringos con Corazon” on a mission with “Brothers to the Rescue.” From left to right, Thomas Van Hare, Conrad Webber, Steve Walton, Matt Lawrence.

Rescued rafters

Rescued rafters

U.S. Invasion of Grenada, 30 Years Later Reply

By JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

As U.S. and Cuban troops fought in the tiny island of Grenada 30 years ago, Havana’s official news media reported that Cuba’s “glorious combatants” were “at this moment immolating themselves for the homeland, wrapped in the Cuban flag.”

That was not true. But that apparently was the order that Havana had given to the detachment of more than 700 Cuban “soldier-bricklayers” building an airport on Grenada.

A U.S military unit monitoring radio traffic overheard a Havana transmission ordering the Cubans to “fight to the last man,” said Chris Simmons, then an Army lieutenant who landed in Grenada on the first day of combat — Oct. 25, 1983.

The U.S. monitors were supporting another American unit tasked with capturing leaders of the Cuban detachment, Simmons said. But the Cubans managed to seek asylum in the Soviet Union’s embassy.

Cuban ruler Fidel Castro was not pleased.

His top commander in Grenada, Col. Pedro Tortoló Comas, was sent to Angola and was last confirmed driving a taxi in Havana. And his ambassador to the former British colony, Julian Torres Rizo, now lists himself as a Havana tourist guide.

The invasion, Operation Urgent Fury, now is largely remembered as the only time when U.S. and Cuban troops fought each other directly, despite more than 50 years of hostile relations – 30 of them during the Cold War.

Planning for Urgent Fury began after Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, a close Cuba ally, and 10 followers were murdered during an Oct. 19 coup by his hard-line Marxist deputy, Bernard Coard, and Gen. Hudson Austin, head of the 1,500-member PRA.

President Ronald Reagan ordered the invasion, saying he was worried about the safety of 600 U.S. medical students on Grenada. But he clearly was concerned about Cuba’s construction of a military-capable airport on the former British colony of 100,000 off the coast of Venezuela.

In brief, sharp clashes, 19 U.S. soldiers were killed, including four members of SEAL Team 6 – the same team that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Twenty-five Cubans were killed fighting and another 638 were captured, including 86 who surrendered after Navy A-7 Corsair jets blasted the Cuban detachment’s headquarters, marked in U.S. military maps as “Little Havana.”

Also killed were 24 civilians and 45 Grenadians in the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA).

Sporadic combat continued for four days as 7,300 U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force troops, plus 330 soldiers from a Caribbean coalition quickly swept over the 133-square mile island, despite crude maps and deadly communications snags.

Simmons’ platoon, part of the 82nd Airborne, was involved the last major firefight of the invasion, a 10-minute clash that left seven PRA fighters dead. Another U.S. unit trying to support his platoon caused a friendly-fire incident, in which one U.S. Ranger captain was killed.

The last of the U.S. forces left Grenada on Dec. 12. But the saga continued.

About 1,000 U.S. citizens on Grenada, including the medical students, were evacuated safely.

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., deputy commander of the invasion, went on to command Operation Desert Storm to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991.

Simmons achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel and an assignment as the top Cuba counterintelligence specialist at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, where he helped track down Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes in 2001. He retired in 2010.

And the more than 600 Cubans who surrendered were greeted as heroes when they returned home a few weeks later. They marched near the front of the May Day parade in 1984, carrying a banner reading ’’Heroes of Grenada.”

The remains of Bishop and the others who were massacred were never found. The Cuban-builtPointSalinesInternationalAirport was renamed in his honor.

After almost 26 years in prison, Coard and six others convicted in Bishop’s murder were freed in 2009.

Grenada now celebrates each Oct. 25 as Thanksgiving Day.

Two of the Cubans who played key roles in Grenada did not fare well, with Castro publicly criticizing Torres for failing to properly report on the mayhem that sparked the U.S. attack and punishing Tortoló for the embarrassing surrenders.

Torres had been an up-and-coming officer in the Foreign Ministry, serving as first secretary of Cuba’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations for two years before he was sent to Grenada in 1979. A Cuban intelligence defector later identified him as an intelligence agent in charge of contacts with the Venceremos Brigade, founded in the 1960s by U.S. citizens who favored the Castro revolution.

After returning to Havana, he disappeared from public sight and was reported to have been posted to a backroom job in the Foreign Ministry or even demoted to cane field worker.

Now about 70, Torres did not reply to El Nuevo Herald’s requests for an interview sent to his LinkedIn account, which lists him as a Havana tourist guide.

His Chicago-born wife, Gail Reed, a journalist and Venceremos Brigade member who served as press attaché in the Cuban embassy in Grenada, returned to Havana and was reported to have freelanced for Business Week and NBC News in the 1990s.

She now works as international director of Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, a California non-profit that promotes public health exchanges. Now about 65, Reed did not reply to an El Nuevo Herald request for an interview.

Bearing the brunt of Castro’s ire was Tortoló, then 38, who had served as chief of staff for one of Cuba’s three military regions — a top post within the Revolutionary Armed Forces — and finished a stint as military adviser in Grenada in May of 1983.

One day before the invasion, Castro had sent Tortoló and Communist Party operative Carlos Diaz to Grenada on a Cubana de Aviacion AN-26 plane carrying tons of weapons to organize the “soldier-bricklayers” resistance.

Diaz was killed in combat but Tortoló sought asylum in the Soviet embassy. A Havana joke at the time had him suffering a “combat injury” – a broken thumb from ringing the doorbell at the Soviet mission.

The colonel was court martialed and busted to private. In a videotaped ceremony, then-Defense Minister Raúl Castro ripped his rank insignia from his epaulettes and sent him to the war in Angola — along with 25-40 other Cubans viewed as having surrendered too easily.

Although Tortoló was widely reported to have been killed in Angola, Miami Cubans who claim to know him said he returned home, was given a low-profile government job, and, at some point in 1999 or 2000, was selling shoes. They declined to provide his current contact information, saying he wanted to put Grenada behind him.

Miami journalist Camilo Loret de Mola said he met Tortoló in 2003 when the former colonel was working as a taxi driver in Havana with his personal LADA, a Soviet-era copy of a Fiat awarded to top government officials in the 1970s and 1980s.

Dr. Jeni Cross on “Three Myths of Behavior Change – What You Think You Know That You Don’t” Reply

Jeni Cross is a sociology professor at Colorado State University (CSU). She has spoken about community development and sustainability to audiences across the country, from business leaders and government officials to community activists. As a professor and consultant she has helped dozens of schools and government agencies implement and evaluate successful programs to improve community well-being. In this talk, she discusses her work around changing behaviors.

For The Love of Our Brothers: Saving Marcus Luttrell Reply

By Chris Simmons

Trailer for the forthcoming movie, Lone Survivor

Three of the four SEALs we infiltrated into the Himalayas yesterday were already dead or wounded before we even knew they were in trouble.

Known as Task Force 328, we launched Operation “Red Wing” against the infamous Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The SEAL Team 10 members were on a Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) mission. Their mission was not to kill Shah, but to covertly find and monitor him until he could be captured or killed by other assets. Regrettably, the mission went horribly wrong.

Late on June 27, 2005, two of our twin-engine MH-47 helicopters performed several “false insertions.” This maneuver confused Taliban forces as to the true location of the SEAL’s drop-off point at Sawtalo Sar. Over 2800 meters tall, the peak is in the eastern Afghanistanprovince of Kunar. It overlooks the mouth of the Wakhan Corridor — a narrow finger of territory between Tajikistan and Pakistan.

The R&S team consisted of Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, Petty Officer Second Class Danny P. Dietz, Petty Officer Second Class Matthew G. Axelson and Navy Corpsman (“medic”) Second Class Marcus Luttrell.

Within hours of their arrival, the team was discovered by local goat herders. Although they were deep in “Taliban Country,” the SEALS had no proof the herders were anything more than they appeared. Murphy ordered them released. It proved to be a fateful decision.

Tipped off by the “goat herders,” an estimated 50 Taliban fighters surrounded the SEALs and attacked with assault rifles, light machine guns, Rocket Propelled Grenades, and light mortars.

The SEALs tried using their radio and a satellite phone to contact those of us in the Joint Operations Center (JOC). Geography appears to have crippled their “comms.” The team could only establish and maintain communication with us long enough to say they were under heavy attack.

A rescue mission was immediately launched, comprised solely of volunteers:  eight Navy SEALs and eight Army Special Operations aviators. The crew of the MH-47 quickly found the SEAL’s position and with Gatling guns blazing, descended. As “Turbine 33” descended to a height of 100 feet, a Taliban fighter stepped out of the tree line with a Rocket Propelled Grenade. He fired the RPG directly into the chopper’s rear engine. Needing both engines to stay aloft in the thin air of the Himalayas, Turbine 33 dropped like a rock. The crash killed all aboard.

Meanwhile, Marcus Luttrell was the R&S team’s sole survivor. Knocked out by a separate RPG blast, he regained consciousness to find himself with several broken bones and other serious wounds.

Ghalib, a local Pashtun man, found Luttrell and offered sanctuary in his home. Under tribal law, one is sworn to protect the life of anyone who crosses the threshold of your home. Outraged by Ghalib’s act, the Taliban surrounded his home and demanded he turn over the American. He bravely defied their demands and the Taliban, unwilling to violate tribal law, withdrew after several days.

Shortly thereafter, American forces rescued Luttrell and recovered the bodies of the 19 personnel killed during the mission. The memorial service at Task Force headquarters lasted three hours, marked by personal tributes and anecdotes from 19 brothers-in-arms. Not a dry eye could be found.

The callsign Turbine 33 was retired, never again to be used by a US military aircraft.

Some people say that war changes you. I believe a more accurate assessment is that war sharpens and amplifies who you already are. Bad men devolve into Satan incarnate. Good men become immortal. Their heroic deeds becomes the stuff of legends, but so too their motivation, because they made their sacrifice not for God and Country, but for the noblest of all emotions — love. Shakespeare said it best:  We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”

The Family That Fights Together Reply

New Thinking for Parents Since the Days of ‘Not in Front of the Children’

By Andrea Petersen, Wall Street Journal

It is a quandary every couple with children eventually faces: Should we fight in front of the kids?

The answer is complicated. Child psychologists who study the issue tend to say yes—if parents can manage to argue in a healthy way. That means disagreeing respectfully and avoiding name-calling, insults, dredging up past infractions or storming off in anger, for starters.

“Kids are going to have disagreements with their friends, their peers, co-workers,” says Patrick Davies, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “If they don’t witness disagreements and how they are handled in constructive ways, they are not well-equipped to go out into the world and address inevitable conflict.”

Dr. Davies and fellow researchers found that “constructive” marital conflict was associated with an increase in children’s emotional security, in their study of 235 families with children ages 5 to 7 published in 2009 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Other studies have linked constructive marital conflict with the healthy development of children’s problem-solving and coping skills and even happiness.

A growing awareness of how and where to fight with a spouse when kids are involved is being spurred in part by a proliferation of research linking children’s exposure to a lot of unhealthy marital conflict—characterized by hostility, threats and insults—with a greater risk of anxiety disorders, depression and behavior problems. Also, a generation of young parents who grew up as kids of divorce in the 1970s and 1980s are now scrutinizing how their parents fought. Some vow to do things differently with their own progeny.

Even infants can be affected by angry disagreements—even when they’re asleep. A study published in May in the journal Psychological Science took 24 babies from 6- to 12-months-old and exposed them to various tones of voice (very angry, mildly angry, happy and neutral) while they were lying asleep in an fMRI scanner. Those infants in families with higher levels of conflict between spouses had elevated responses in parts of the brain associated with reactions to stress and emotion regulation when exposed to the very angry voices during the study. Babies “are still sensitive to things even when they’re asleep,” says Alice Graham, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Oregon and lead author of the study. “The idea of it being a time to let loose when infants are asleep is probably not accurate.”

Still, beyond universal agreement against physical confrontation, opinions vary on the right approach. Some experts say parents should keep arguments away from children because it’s just too hard to fight well. “If [parents] are going to have disagreements, they should do that in private as much as possible,” says Thomas McInerny, president of the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics. “It is the rare instance when [couples] can keep it rational and keep it calm.”

How to keep things from getting too heated for little eyes and ears? Child psychologist Kirsten Cullen Sharma suggests that parents agree in advance on an anger cutoff point for arguments. On an anger scale of one to 10, she asks individuals to define the number when they feel they start to yell, curse or generally lose control. (For one person, it could be a five. For another, it could be a seven.) During a disagreement, when Mom or Dad hits the cutoff number, the couple tables the argument to a time when the kids are asleep or aren’t around. Either party can say when the other person has reached that limit.

“One of the great skills parents can offer their children is conflict resolution. That helps [kids] in their future relationships,” says Dr. Cullen Sharma, co-director of the early childhood clinical service at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Caroline Rheinfrank and Chopper Bernet have an unofficial five-minute time limit for disagreements in front of their three children, ages 15, 14 and 11. “Now that they are older, they comprehend more,” says Ms. Rheinfrank, a stay-at-home mother in Los Angeles. Or as Mr. Bernet, an actor, explains, “Parents need timeouts, too.” The couple also tries to prevent potential blowups by cutting each other extra slack during times with high bicker potential, including while in the car and just before dinner.

Parents should use their kids’ reaction during a fight as a guide, experts say. A crying child is an obvious sign to end an argument. But there are more subtle cues that a kid is distressed, Dr. Davies says. “When they start freezing, they are stuck still for a few seconds, that is a really negative sign that they feel like they are in extreme danger,” he says. Other kids tend to “slump over, lethargic, and look like they are sort of depressed.”

Some kids misbehave to try to distract parents from the conflict. Other children attempt to insert themselves and try to mediate or take sides. All of these are signs that an argument needs to be put on hold, Dr. Davies says.

It is not OK to drag kids into a parental fight or encourage them to take sides, Dr. Cullen Sharma says. And don’t be fooled if a teen appears nonchalant about his parents’ below-the-belt fighting: “They roll their eyes, but that does not make it less painful,” says Alan E. Kazdin, director of the YaleParentingCenter and a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University.

Making sure kids see some kind of resolution to the argument is crucial, Dr. Kazdin says. “Is there a nice makeup period and mundane chatter? Routine kind of banter will greatly alleviate the child’s anxiety,” he says. This doesn’t mean that the conflict has to be solved. You may just decide to settle it later or agree to disagree. And even more critical, Dr. Kazdin says, is what goes on in the marital relationship during non-conflict times. “The proportion of fighting to affectionate talk is the issue,” he says.

Georgi and Rick Silverman have decided not to hide arguments—often about the division of household labor or Mr. Silverman’s weekend sports viewing—from their kids, ages 9 and 3. But they also make sure the children see them make up. “We’ll hold hands and he’ll hug me and we’ll say we love each other,” says Ms. Silverman, a stay-at-home mother in Houston. “Even if I’m a little upset, I want the kids to know, ‘I still love your Mom and I’m not going anywhere,’ ” says Mr. Silverman, the chief financial officer of a facilities-maintenance business, whose parents divorced when he was 13.

Bottling up anger and giving a spouse the cold shoulder when the kids are around can end up making things worse. The silent treatment is actually more distressing for kids than a healthy argument, Dr. Davies says. “Kids pick up on that. But they don’t know what is going on,” he says, adding that children may think the fight—and its potential consequences—are much worse than they actually are.

And some topics should be totally off-limits in front of the kids, experts say. Intimate, high-stakes relationship discussions should wait until the kids are out of earshot. So should disagreements about parenting practices like discipline or bedtimes. “Parents should come up with a unified decision and present a united front to the child,” Dr. McInerny says.

Write to Andrea Petersen at Andrea.Petersen@wsj.com

Armless Body Builder Inspires Fitness World With Her Ability 1

By Susan Donaldson James, Good Morning America

Barbie Thomas

Barbie Thomas lost both her arms at the age of 2. She was playing outside her Texas apartment complex and climbed onto a transformer, grabbling on to the wires. The electric current traveled through her little body, from her hands out her feet, burning her arms to the bone.

“They were like charcoal,” she writes in her biography on her website, Fitness Unarmed “They were completely dead and had to be amputated at the shoulders.”

No one expected Thomas to live. But today, at 37, she has accomplished what was once regarded as the impossible: Thomas is a competitive body builder and model.

“I thank God I am alive,” said Thomas, who now lives in Phoenix with her two sons, aged 13 and 17. She uses her shoulders as arms, which her children call her “nubs.”

Thomas said her positive attitude is rooted in her upbringing.

“I was not allowed to be negative and say I can’t do something,” she told ABCNews.com, holding the phone between her ear and her right-hand shoulder, which is more substantial than her left side.

“I was always taught to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t do,” she said. “It probably has a lot to do with my personality — I can’t imagine being a negative Nancy all the time.”

Fitness competitors, in addition to having beautifully sculpted bodies, must do a two-minute performance routine incorporating dance, cheerleading or gymnastic flexibility.

“They are in the same realm as body builders, but instead of seeing the deep-cut muscles, they want to see a nice feminine shape,” Thomas said. Experts say something in between a body builder and a bikini girl.

Her dance routines include splits and high kicks and even the ninja kip-up. Thomas placed sixth in June at Jr. Nationals and fifth in August at the North American Championships.

The National Physique Committee (NPC), which is the amateur division of the International Federation of Body Builders, was so impressed with her performance in their fitness division last year, they gave Thomas their first-ever Inspiration Award.

“She chose the most difficult division of all,” said Miles Nuessle, Arizona chairman of the NPC.

“We were thinking, ‘How can she do that routine?’ but she blew our minds,” he said. “She was absolutely beautiful. She was on the floor jumping up and doing splits. I don’t know what half the moves were called. She was rolling all over the place and shaking it — sexy, athletic, fun and emotional. The crowd went nuts.

“You can’t use the word handicapped with her or she may punch you in the face,” he said. “Barbie is not handicapped.”

After the childhood accident, doctors said Thomas might live like a vegetable for the rest of her life. But her mother prayed that if that were the case, “God would just take me,” Thomas writes. “She also made a promise to God that day — if he let me live, she would make sure that I became ‘somebody.'”

“The doctors were boggled by my recovery,” she said. “They decided I must have survived because of the rubber soles on my tennis shoes. True, they may have played their part, but I believe I survived because God saw the bigger picture and had plans for me.”

Thomas went through extensive physical and occupational therapy. Adapting to a world without arms was a challenge and even years later, when she was independent, she’d have to improvise to do ordinary tasks.

“Every now and then, we would have to put our thinking caps on or call a therapist,” she said. “I learned to be creative and think out of the box.”

She makes full use of her feet in both dance competitions and at home, using them to open doors, plug in her music and grab her bags. She uses her mouth to fasten the Velcro snaps on her dance shoes.

“Reaching for high stuff in the grocery store is hard, especially if it’s breakable,” said Thomas, who uses her shoulder. “If it’s a cardboard box, I can usually reach — I am tall enough — and knock it into the grocery cart. Sometimes I have to go get help. When I had long hair, I couldn’t put it up in a ponytail.”

Thomas raised her first son with the help of a husband, though she is now divorced.

“I did have to pick my therapist’s brain to help with a few things with the newborn baby,” she said. “But the second one was a piece of cake. I had to kind of prop them up on a pillow and lay next to them as a holder when I nursed them. I could hold them the right way in my lap by using my leg when they were a little older.”

Thomas said fitness had been part of her life “forever.” Growing up, she played soccer, danced and did aerobic running. When her first child was born she got into aerobic lifting with weights and later became an instructor.

“I’d go to the gym doing aerobic lifting with weights after the oldest son was born,” she said. “I read about [fitness competition] in athletes’ magazines and thought it was cool. Finally, I was encouraged by a friend and decided to go for it.”

She began competing in 2003, and she faced some odd stares.

“In the first few competitions I felt that when they were calling me to go up, in their hands and their manners, they looked at me like, ‘What the heck is she doing here?'” she said. “I put their doubts to rest when they saw my fitness routine.

“There are certain routines that you use your hands for that I can do — I can kip-up,” she said. “When you are laying on the ground it looks like you are falling backward and then you come up. Most people use their hands to push themselves up.”

Thomas admits she is anxious about doing a back flip, which requires arms to get height and momentum, even though she is capable.

“I have to compensate and use my upper body more and my leg a lot,” she said. “My core is pretty strong.

“The reason I keep going is to prove to myself that I will get on stage and do my damn flip,” Thomas said. “I know I can and I will.”

Nuessle, who runs NPC Miles Productions, said he once made a comment to Thomas that she said gave her the “fuel” to keep competing.

“At one of the shows I said without pulling any punches, ‘It’s hard to win when you don’t have upper extremities.’ The judges look at symmetry,” he said. “She got a fire in the belly and said, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t win. I’ll use that to motivate me.’ … She did make me eat my words.”

The sport is grueling, demanding weight training five days a week, and cardio work every day. Athletes like Thomas must pay attention to the nutrition in their diet and stay focused.

But Thomas thrives on the challenge, especially because it sends a strong message to others.

“I realize it inspires many people, and not just those with physical challenges,” she said. “Follow your dreams and keep pushing and where there is a will, there is a way. We all have our own stuff to deal with and our own limitations and handicaps. Mine are just more visible. There’s always someone else out there who has it worse.”

Leadership is Example: A Lesson From Legendary Coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant Reply

It Don’t Cost Nothin’ To Be Nice

By Larry Burton, Senior Writer for Bleacher Report

Here’s a reprint of an article I wrote for another publication several years ago. 

At a Touchdown Club meeting many years before his death, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant told the following story:

“I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player and I was havin’ trouble finding the place. Getting hungry I spied an old cinder block building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant.”

“I pull up, go in and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?” I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today? He says, “You probably won’t like it here, today we’re having chitlins, collared greens and black eyed peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?” I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas, I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.” They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, “You ain’t from around here then?”

“I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was and he says, yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s supposed to be pretty good. And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.  As I’m paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay.

The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one and shook his hand and left.”

“I met the kid I was lookin’ for later that afternoon and I don’t remember his name, but do remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him. I had wasted a day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.”

“Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on see some others while I’m down there.”

“Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama?” And I said, “Yes I sure do.” And he says OK, he’ll come. And I say, “Well son, what changed your mind?” And he said, “When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met.” Well, I didn’t know his granddad from Adam’s house cat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him.”

“My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.  “I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breakin’ your word to someone.”

“When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place, but it looks a lot better now; and he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that woulda made Dreamland proud and I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.”

“I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.”

Well Coach, we haven’t forgotten you or the simple lessons you taught not just your players, but everyone who would take the time to listen to you.

Larry Burton, Panama City Beach, Florida

If You Can’t be a Role Model, be a Bad Example 1

By Chris Simmons

It was a snowy day in Sarajevo as one of my mentors, a brilliant man named Colonel Rik Krauss, discussed recent leadership challenges with me. To illustrate one of his points, he commented, “If you can’t be a Role Model, be a Bad Example.” We laughed at the humor and accuracy of his assessment. Continuing, he observed that “Bad Examples” are actually negative role models. As such, they are teachers. From them we learn what we DON’T want to be/do.

He then noted that being a role model is never a choice. Everyone is a role model to someone. Equally important, he said, “the people to whom you are a mentor are always watching — a mentor is never off the clock.”

Editor’s Note:  Deeper development of the role of negative role models can be found in the July 11th post, “Why Enemies Are more Important Than Friends.”