Note from Sam: The day after Osama Bin Laden was killed, I contacted Operation Jack friend John Atilano, who is deployed to Afghanistan, and asked him what the mood was like over there. He said it was basically business as usual, but if the war ended and everybody came home, then they’d be up celebrating all night. So I followed up with a quick DM conversation on Twitter with him.
This is the third time I’ve been featured on Operation Jack. The first was on Veteran’s Day and the second time was last week. I’ve never met Sam in person but I truly admire everything he has accomplished. He is a testament to dedication, hard work, and the reality that one man can truly make a difference. I love reading his blog. My heart breaks when Jack has a bad day. I “watched” Sam go sub-3 at Boston via twitter and rapidly refreshing the BAA tracker; I cheered out loud when he did it! Although I am blessed with three healthy children I understand his fight against autism. Daddies slay dragons. Jack’s dragon is Autism. You can’t slay a dragon without a sword and a shield.
After the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s (OBL) demise, Sam asked if I’d like to write a guest post given the jubilant national pride that has swept across our nation in the past few days. I accepted this honor with pride and a little hesitation. OperationJack.org is not a political blog. It is kind of a running blog. Mostly it is about helping others. It’s Sam doing everything he can to help his son, Jack, and the other families who deal with autism on a daily basis. It is about helping to fight cancer. It’s a glimpse into one family’s struggle to provide normalcy for their family. As a guest, I wanted to ensure I remained true to this theme. I thought to myself, “How am I going to write about OBL in such a way that it relates to Operation Jack?” After much deliberation, I think I have figured out a clever way of relating the death of OBL, Operation Jack, running, military families, and helping others together. It’s not pithy but I do believe it is cogent. Stay with me for the next few paragraphs and I promise I will tie it all together!
Let’s start with THE guy that killed OBL. He’s a Navy SEAL. These men are extremely well trained and equipped. He obviously used a weapon to shoot OBL. That weapon required ammunition to make the shot. He didn’t walk to the target location, he flew on a helicopter. That helicopter required fuel. He probably ate a meal before he left and drank several bottles of water to stay hydrated. Where did all of this stuff (weapon, ammo, helicopter, fuel, food, water) come from? It was bought with your tax dollars and it was fixed, fueled, and transported by conventional forces (the non-special forces) and civilians. An armorer checked that weapon. The stuff (weapon, ammo, helicopter, fuel, food, water) was made in the United States and trucked from a factory in an 18-wheeler to a loading dock. A dock worker put it on a commercial ship. The ship brought it across the ocean and put it on another 18-wheeler. It was inventoried and managed by someone else who filled a requisition who sent it out on a military transport to a forward operating base. There it was unpacked, inventoried and stored until needed. That same process, more or less, is followed for everything over here. Regular Soldiers and civilians maintain all of our equipment fixing engines, air conditioners, broken axles, etc. This is a miniscule example of everything involved (directly and indirectly) with killing OBL. One man pulled the trigger, but he had a lot of help.
When I’m deployed I often get asked by friends and family “what do you need.” The usual answer is “books, DVDs, crystal light powder, etc. However, I have never answered truthfully; until now.
I need you to mow my lawn.
Let’s return our focus to THE guy who killed OBL. He probably has a wife and young children; maybe his wife is pregnant; maybe one of his kids has cancer or autism or diabetes. He very likely called his wife before he departed on that mission. When he spoke to his wife he knew it might be the last time he would ever speak to her. He can’t tell her what he is doing or where he is going. She probably does most of the talking. She’s venting and telling him about all of the “life” that happens while he is not there and ALL of the problems that seem to come up during a deployment: the microwave is broken; the car needs an emissions test; there’s a water leak in the upstairs bathroom; and of course, the homeowners association left a nasty-gram saying the lawn needs to be mowed.
Maybe this didn’t happen to THE guy but I can guarantee with absolute certainty that it happens to THOUSANDS of deployed Soldiers on a daily basis. I know this from experience because it happened to me several times when I was serving in Iraq in a much more dangerous assignment. The amount of relief that you can bring to the wife of a deployed Soldier is immense. If you know someone whose spouse is deployed, ask what you can do to help. In doing so, you will be DIRECTLY affecting this war. The wife is less stressed and tells her husband about the nice lady or gentlemen who mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, babysat the kids, fixed the leak, etc. The Soldier is now better able to focus on his mission instead of worrying about his family.
Maybe you don’t know a Soldier. Do you know a single mother? She could really use some help because nobody is coming home in six months or a year to take some of the load. What about the elderly couple next door? Perhaps you know someone with an exceptional family member like Jack. Everyone has their own story, their own struggle. We could all use some help at one time in our life or another. Let’s follow Sam’s example and help each other out. We don’t have to have Wolverine-like recovery gifts and be able to run 61 marathons in a single year or wear a uniform and kill Osama Bin Laden to be a hero. We all have the potential to be a hero to somebody else.
Five years ago Sam was obese, a smoker, and a heavy drinker. Today, he is a symbol of the potential that lays dormant in all of us if only we would take that first step. He ran 61 marathons in a single year, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Train 4 Autism, and is raising that awareness globally!! But, he didn’t do it alone. He had help. If not for a loving wife and an iPod none of us would have ever heard of Sam Felsenfeld.
In 2008 when I returned from Iraq I did not want to do anything except lay on the couch and watch TV. I wasn’t a very good husband or a very good father. I gained 25 pounds and didn’t feel very good about myself. My focus was inward. My weight had reached a whopping 189.8 pounds! I’m 5’5”. My cholesterol was well over 300. I was on my way to an early grave. I’ll never forget my doctor’s words: “If you want to see your children graduate from ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, you need to change your ways today. It’s really that simple.” My wife (she is a Neo-Natal Physical Therapist) reviewed my blood work when I got home. She confirmed the doctor’s prognosis. She whipped me back into shape. My wife saved my life and changed our life, forever. That was January 2010. By October 2010 I was down to 161 pounds and ran my first half-marathon in 1:53:19 (screaming “I LOVE YOU!” to my wife and daughter as I crossed the finish line). On April 16 of 2011, I ran my first marathon in the mountains of Afghanistan in 4:18:15. I had help.
Here is a quote from Sam’s second blog post on July 8, 2009:
“Operation Jack is starting to remind me of my first marathon. It started with some talk, it turned into action, and the next thing I knew, I was right in the middle of it.”
One of my alma maters, the John F. Kennedy School of Government, has a great slogan:
“Ask what you can do.”
Sam has already asked for your help to fight cancer. You don’t even need to ask! Now, I am respectfully asking you again to make a pledge. I hope to donate at least $100 to Sam’s cause (my grandmother died of cancer and my Mom is recovering) so I have donated $0.025 (two and a half cents) for every runner that Sam passes on July 31. Now that he ‘s gone “Sub-3” it should be no problem for him to pass 4000 people after starting DEAD LAST in the San Francisco Marathon.
After making your donation, take a hard look at the people who pass through your life each day and ask what you can do. If you want to change someone’s world, all you have to do is ask. That talk will lead to action. The next thing you know, you’ll be right in the middle of it. Just like the 261 lb. Sam or the 189.8 lb. John, change begins with one step. More importantly, change begins with you.