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Packing Parachutes

13 Aug 2021 | Lt. Brian Payne Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

I once heard a story about a retired Navy Fighter Pilot by the name of Capt. Charlie Plumb who was shot down over North Vietnam. After safely leaving his craft, he was taken as a prisoner of war for nearly six years.

Many years later, Capt. Plumb was having dinner with his wife when a man from another table came up and said to him, “You’re Plumb!” The captain looked up and said, “Yes, sir, I am.” The stranger continued, “You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down.”

“How in the world did you know that?” replied Plumb.

“I packed your parachute.” Then the man pumped his hand and said “I guess it worked.”

Capt. Plumb later wrote about the incident saying, “I didn’t get much sleep that night. I kept thinking about that man. I wondered how many times I might have passed him onboard the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘good morning’, how are you’ or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a Sailor. How many hours did he spend on that long wooden table in the bowels of that ship weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of those chutes, doing a standard (or even mediocre) job? I could have cared less... until one day my parachute came along and he packed mine for me.”

Figuratively speaking, has anyone “packed your parachute” for you. Has anyone done something, or is actively doing something, for you that you desperately need but it is such a simple act that you didn’t/don’t notice it? Are you expressing gratitude for those things? Even the simple things?

Gratitude is about taking the time and energy to appreciate something. For leaders, it is about appreciating the people behind your organization. Many leaders have recognized it as the first step to success. Research has even show that gratitude encourages happiness, improves health, resiliency, higher productivity and even better sleep. I have noticed that when leaders express genuine gratitude with their actions and words within their organization it creates a more effective and driven culture, and dare I say, a more combat effective culture.

There is a saying that if ingratitude is one of the most serious sins than gratitude is one of the noblest virtues. Gratitude is probably one of the most powerful ways to gain loyalty for leaders because it is the first step to seeing people as people, and not as objects. When people are treated like objects, they are less motivated and will only do a mediocre job at best. When people are treated as people (as if they have their own goals, desires, and needs), they tend to be willing to do just about anything they are asked.

I invite you to ask yourself, “Am I expressing gratitude for those that are figuratively packing my parachute?”

The Chaplain’s Corner covers everything faith related. Facts not attributed are purely the opinion of the writer.