Posts Tagged ‘air supremacy


a message to esparza

Long about the turn of the 19th century when the United States was embroiled in war.  Communications as we know it today, or more specifically as we have come to take for granted, were extremely critical in battle.  The most effective of armies held an edge in battle that was as important then, as air-supremacy would later become.

You had to be able to communicate quickly.  And for the United States and President William McKinley, he saw the value in establishing contact with the Cuban rebels who would prove to be a great ally in the war with Spain.  The year was 1899 and the Spanish were in control of

And as such, President McKinley asked his closest military advisors for an extraordinary officer who could make personal contact with Calixto Garcia, the leader of the Cuban revolt.  He knew the perils of negotiating the jungles of Cuba.  He knew he was seeking a needle in a haystack, sunk in an alligator infested swamp with hostile Spanish soldiers patrolling the surface to boot.  He knew he needed a miracle.

After much collaboration amongst those who bore rank, ribbons and medals – it was decided that what the president needed, was an army officer by the name of Andrew Summers Rowan.

Rowan came to the White House and was personally handed a message to deliver right into Garcia’s hands.  Rowan did something next that makes him extraordinary, and for generations to come – a symbol of American can-do attitude.

He sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart and set forth without any further instruction – for none was needed.  No he didn’t have any particular insight, nor did he have a fool proof plan.  He gathered provisions and made arrangements.  He landed off the coast of Cuba at night and disappeared into the jungle.

Three long weeks would pass and while some surmised Rowan was at the bottom of a murky swamp having met with the business end of a Spanish sword – instead Rowan came out clean on the other side of the island.   Against insurmountable odds, a simple American serviceman completed what he believed to be a simple task.  Rowan had successfully delivered the letter.

Rowan was not a local, he had never even set foot in Cuba, and no one on the island that would talk to an American had ever even been able to find Garcia before.  Yet Rowan did not so much as ask who he was, or where he was for that matter.  He didn’t ask why he was selected, or why he should even have to do this.  Nor did he ask what was written in the letter, or whom he should contact about helping him get started.  He simply took the letter and set foot on his mission, returning only when it was completed, and much to the satisfaction of the President.


Captain Andrew Summers Rowan

The story is the subject of an old movie from the 1930s based on an even older essay by Elbert Hubbard, which I highly recommend, titled – A Message to Garcia.

We all seek that selfless initiative in the people we surround ourselves with at the office.  They not only make the most successful of military officers – but the most important of lieutenants for you at work.

The author implores us not to be average, if not show initiative then at least the ability to be “ready-reserve.”  In Aggie lore, it’s the story of E. King Gill who didn’t make the football team, but when injuries plagued the Aggies during a critical away game, the coach remembered he had cut Gill who was in attendance up in the stands with the Corps of Cadets.  And the coaches order to Gill – suit up and get ready.  Your team may need you!

Hubbard puts it this way:

“Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook, or threat, he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant. No man, who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man – the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.”

Is his essay Hubbard praises the individual who is anything but average.  He does his work when the boss is away just as well as he would if he was there.  He is the individual who quietly takes the missive without question or lurking intention – who simply gets the job done.

It’s what I like to call around the office, “has a good case of the GSD (Gets Stuff Done).”  He strikes parallels to the employee who can’t afford to be let go or whose cloths are never threadbare for lack of employment.

Since the turn of the century, “to take a message to Garcia,” has come to symbolize the expression for taking initiative and is still in use by many members of the military to this day.

My own brother, a decorated US Marine veteran in his own right, recently reintroduced me to this essay.  Quite by accident as it were as I happen to be in earshot when he began telling the story of Captain Rowan to my sons, a great lecture on “taking initiative.”   As he spun his tale, a rush of memories ensued, and I was reunited with an essay from my own youth.

As we pause today to pay tribute to the veterans of our armed forces.  Men and women who stood up when their name was called – showed that initiative and raised their right arm and swore to “stand beside her and guide her, through the night with a light from above.”

Who took that initiative, and blended it into the olive drab uniforms worn by so many, who in service to our beloved country humbly found that they were actually not cut out to blend in, but instead, born to stand out.

Let us not forget the Captain Andrew Rowans of this world, who peacefully lies today at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.  Or Bill Brooks who was laid to rest Saturday in Pflugerville, Texas – himself a Marine, veteran of the Korean War, beloved husband and lifetime partner of our own Dorothy Brooks.

Let us give thanks to the Captain Tory Houses of this world.  Who dropped his children off at school before clocking in at Campy Mabry just this morning.  Or the Capt. Javier Esparzas of the world for burning more than jet fuel over the skies of the Middle East just a few short years ago – quietly sharing dinner tonight with his wife, Capt. Danielle Esparza, their son and new daughters.

Capt. Javier Esparza

Joshua Esparza and Capt. Javier Esparza

And for the Corporal Joe Esparzas of the world, who left more than empty shell casings on the streets of places like Ramadi, Hit, Fallujah and Haditha.  Here with us today passing along great lessons to nephews across this great country.  For the Private First Class Daniel Antonio Esparzas of the world – who left it all in France, Austria and Germany.  Who to this very day seemingly sits in a silent world, but hears mostly the loud ringing of the lasting damage from the constant shelling of all those yesterdays ago.

Let us also remember the six hundred, whom Lord Alfred Tennyson referred to in his masterful poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade:

“Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.”

The world cries out for such leaders, individuals who, if we are doing our job right, we surround ourselves with not isolate ourselves from.  Who make us better than we actually are.  Those who depend on us to lead – depend on us to do so by surrounding ourselves with leaders just like Captain Rowan.

Cpl. Joe A. Esparza

Cpl. Joe A. Esparza

Who help us to raise our children, to teach our most precious gifts, to console our heartbroken or to share experiences only they can share to help make us all better citizens, better husbands and wives, better bosses and employees, and yes – especially to make us better leaders.

It is because the individual who can carry a message to Garcia, has the power to tell the world to wait – the patience to make his or her own fate, and like water – they just simply find a way.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble Six Hundred!


In Loving Memory of Bill Brooks


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