Memorial Day: Leadership at Age 21

In America, we take time each spring to celebrate the brave men and women who serve our country in the military in a holiday called Memorial Day. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service.

Recently, the United States Commander in Chief reminded the American public about the significance of the day:

More than just barbecues and family time, Memorial Day is the chance to honor members of the military who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country, President Barack Obama says.

Military Service

For me, Memorial Day has always been a time to celebrate along with time in somber reflection. My secret celebration has always been a selfish thankfulness for the blessing that the living soldiers provide me on a daily basis in the areas of freedom, liberty, and the rights guaranteed to me under the US Constitution.

I know who keeps freedom available to me: it is the men and women in US Military.

Both my dad Sylvester Schulte and my wife’s dad Melvin Chapman served their country in the US Army in the 1950’s in Korea and came home alive to have families, careers, and a life in “suburbia.” They didn’t die for their country on a battle field like so many others have. But I have often thought of what would be missing if either of them had died back then. I certainly wouldn’t be here to write this. Although I haven’t personally served, I have a good understanding of the sacrifice it takes.

I recently witness a small glimpse of the sacrifice made by a family who has lived across the street from my family in a cul-de-sac for the last 16 years. Close friends David and Lisa Hawkins watched their son Cpl Steven Hawkins go off to war in Afghanistan last year as a member of the US Army for a one-year assignment.

Steven is 21-years old and has been a best friend to my son Drew (also 21-years old), my other son Michael, age 20, and my twin daughters (ages 18). He has also been extremely close to me and my wife.

Steven is a man’s man with a kind heart and the ability to crush an enemy. He was built to be a servant leader and soldier.


When Steven went off to war, he was given excellent advice, was very well-trained, and was eager to serve. Seeing a 4-year old boy grow into a 20-year old warrior and go across the planet in harm’s way was made easier by knowing of this preparation and knowing the kind of man he had become.

I have been close with him and treated him like a son. He spent much time with us over his lifetime, including in our home, at the pool, and even coming on a family vacation with us to Florida.

I even taught him how to punt a birthday cake in my front yard. He’s that kind of guy!

My wife also considers him as a special part of our family. And oh, most of the other neighbors who have lived here just as long feel the same way. Everyone loves Steven, his brother Chris (18) and their parents.

New Awareness of Death

For me in 2009, I thought about Memorial Day 2010. I wondered if the meaning of ‘fallen warrior” would forever change if I ever heard the news of Steven’s death in combat. I wondered if Memorial Day 2010 would be the first time that I would have such a personal connection with the day of remembrance for someone I loved and felt to be a son.

It was over this last year that my understanding of loss and remembrance of a fallen soldier began to take hold in my mind. I thought that I would be thinking of Steven on this day for the rest of my life. I would be thinking about his parents, his brother, my kids and wife, and all the others around that know and loved him.

I was thinking about what wouldn’t happen if he died in battle. The wife he wouldn’t get, the kids he wouldn’t have, the people he would no longer impact. It made me think about the lessons he wouldn’t be able to pass on to future generations. It made me think of the character, work ethic, sense of service, and his delightful personality that would never go on to serve others. I have thought much about what makes a man a man this last year. And what it would be like to lose a really good one. We would have lost a great young leader.

It made me realize what a great young leader this man had grown up to become before my very eyes.

Arrive Alive: A Leader Comes Home

Great News: Memorial Day 2010 arrives with Steven Hawkins safety back on US soil and sleeping in his own bed in Sugar Hill, Georgia. No more dessert sand, no more war, no more sacrifice for him and his family. Steven arrived home to become a leader for a new generation. What he learned and what he witnessed will stay with him for a lifetime.

Have you ever seen a true leader at the ripe old age of 21 years? What do they look like? What are the signs that point to someone like that? Well take a quick moment and watch this welcome home ride up Secret Cove Drive to see all the signs and celebrations that greeted Steven when he got home. You will love this video made by @tasradawson of Teen Identity!

Bookmark Memorial Day: Leadership at Age 21

Tom Schulte is Executive Director of Linked 2 Leadership
He provides leadership training fit for the Blackberry-Attention-Span

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7 responses to “Memorial Day: Leadership at Age 21

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  3. Great article! I can’t take credit for the video entirely… all the photos are from his friends and family!


  4. Tom – what a great tribute to both this leader and to all of the leaders in our military. It is easy to lose site of their courage and commitment, but you really bring this home for all of us. Happy Memorial Day to everyone.


  5. Tom,

    Truly inspirational. As Americans, we often forget the sacrifices that must be made for our freedoms. Thank you for bringing that home. Happy Memorial Day to all.


  6. Tom – my son decided early in high school that he wanted to join the military. When 9/11 happened, he was in basic training. He went on to serve two tours in Afghanistan sadwiching another in Iraq. My son had the privelege of attending the Army leadership training, where he graduated with honors.

    What does a leader look like at 21 (or, in our case, 19)? He or she is disciplined, team-oriented, acts with commitment, and holds integrity above all else. Just what we would like to see in leaders of all kind.

    There is a great book you might interested in. It’s called “Be-Know-Do, Leadership the Army Way.” It’s about leadership at every level, the way the Army trains it. I highly recommend it.

    Thank you for sharing this story. My son, too, came home safely. We celebrate him and his service at his favorite holiday of the year; Veteran’s Day.


  7. This is another great article. I really enjoy your writing style, and the different spin you put on traditional leadership articles.

    Thanks for the wonderful writing.


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