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This Thanksgiving holiday we all have so much to be thankful for. I’m a firm believer that we are masters of our own destiny for the most part, personally and professionally, and there are defining moments in our lives that fundamentally shape who we are and allow us to realize our full potential. Sometimes those moments originate outside our own control, and how we respond in those moments help us appreciate we are all more capable than we realize. I would like to share just such an event with you perhaps as a source of reflection over the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’m blessed with two wonderful sons. My oldest, Jason, is a marketing professional in London with an electric personality. He has achieved athletic and educational accomplishments and made his own opportunities in his life and his profession. A graduate degree at 23 and an accomplished athlete, he has a perpetually positive attitude and is infectiously inspirational on those around him. He continually makes me proud to be his Dad, though I try not to tell him that too often so as to keep his head at a normal circumference.

My youngest son, Cameron, recently completed his commitment in the US Army. He is more reserved and his crucible – as an Infantryman that started at 19 years old – has been different than most. Cameron was on a full ride to university and after his first year came to me and said he didn’t want me to be disappointed, but he didn’t like school, didn’t feel like he was learning anything relevant and didn’t have a sense of purpose. He told me he wanted to enlist in the Army. My response was cool and calm… “I want to throw you off the roof,” I said. I explained that his Mom (Sharon) and I had worked hard to give him this opportunity and he should take advantage of it – trust my wisdom. After a couple weeks of respectful banter, Sharon told me, “don’t confuse your ambitions for him with his own ambitions.” I really hate it when she’s right, but I trusted her wisdom. Off to the Army he went. Boot camp, infantry school and eventually into combat in Iraq.

Earlier this year Cameron called me to share some news. Important to note this is how I judge the importance of communications with my sons. Text: not so important. A phone call: well then, something special is going on. Cameron was a Specialist by this time, not quite at the middle of the pack in the Army ranks, and 22 years old. He said, “Dad, I was made a temporary Squad Leader while the position is vacant.” A squad in an Army unit is about 9 soldiers. That meant he was responsible for their overall organization, training and daily activities. In combat he would be responsible for leading them on missions to close on and destroy the enemy. It’s a position usually held by at least a Sergeant. I could tell by the tone of his voice and the way he described his future duties that he was excited about the opportunity.

A few days later, another call. “Dad, you’re never going to believe this. All the Platoon Sergeants are going away to training and I’ve been told I’ll be serving in that leadership role…it just got real.” An Army Platoon is 30-50 soldiers depending on mission and manning levels. His voice this time was a little more uncertain. I told him to lean on his training and instincts and he would be fine. I said something really profound like, “…just more monkeys in the zoo. You’ll be fine.” In my defense, I was still in shock at receiving two phone calls in the same week.

The third call that came a week later. This defining moment is where I think there’s a lesson for us all. I picked up his call and he sounded concerned. “Dad, the Platoon Leader (an officer) just called. One of my soldiers who has only been with the unit for a few weeks has been notified his Dad just died. He committed suicide. I have to help him through it.” No more jokes about monkeys in the zoo, I asked him if he wanted to walk through it. I had been there before in my own military career. He said, “Yes sir,” and we talked about what he can do, should do and can’t do. He stepped up and got it done…for the soldier, for the soldier’s family, for his unit and for his Army.

In what company, in what industry would we ask a 22-year-old to carry that level of responsibility? He called me back shortly after having spent time with his fellow soldier. Listening to how Cameron handled such a delicate situation, and seeing the way in which he comforted and supported his colleague, I quickly came to realize: we are all capable of far more than we realize, especially when faced with a challenge. The most significant events – those from which we will learn and grow the most – will come when we least expect them or when we’re least prepared.