Monday, April 25, 2011

Reflections on Brian


Thursday, April 7, it's just past 8 p.m. Tonight's aikido class is over. I'm driving east on Middle Two Rock Road, Petaluma. I flip open my cell phone and, "Whoa - what's up?" A surprising number of messages are waiting. I pull over and stop the car to listen to what this may be about.

Today my friend, Brian Klemmer, lived his last day.

Our paths first crossed under a late afternoon sun on the grassy lawns at Battle Monument, West Point - July 1, 1968. There and then that we stood together and solemnly swore an oath to support and defend the US Constitution. With that we officially became plebes (new cadets) and members (Proud & True) of the Class of 1972. We journeyed four years in that historic place. There we shared classes and jokes and parades (in blistering sun and sub-freezing temperatures) and forced marches and inspections and the counter revolution (Woodstock was just down the road) and history (Neal Armstrong walked on the moon, Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon made speeches in our presence) - and now and then slugged down cups of coffee and devoured dozens of donuts. Brian distinguished himself as a jock and first-string member of the "team of the decade" - Army's Intercollegiate Sprint Football Team that won many Eastern Light Football League championships. Upon graduation we both drew assignments to the 25th Infantry Division. There we served together as "Gimlets" - soldiers of the 1/21st Infantry Battalion.

During our Gimlet days I had the pleasure of introducing Brian to the world of personal growth seminars and human potential movement (a world in which he would decades later excel as a businessman and leader). I had attended a seminar in January 1975. It was eye opening. A lot of good things were happening for me as a result, one being an increased ability to shrug off negative distractions during intense situations - to stay positive and focused on tasks at hand. Some months later Brian strode into my little office in Delta Quad, Schofield Barracks, plopped down into a chair, put his boots (dirty) on my desk. "Hey! What gives you the right to be so happy around here?", he grumbled. "Don't you know this is the Army!" I informed him that on Wednesday night a group of folks would be getting together in Honolulu, that he was welcome to be my guest, and that he might find the answer to his question there. His reply was specific and goal oriented, "Will there be any women there?" I grinned wide, "Sure Brian, there will be women there. Some of them single." That Wednesday night we met at the Waikiki Travelodge. He went to an adjacent room to learn about the seminar. Forty-five minutes later he came back and asked, "Hey, are there more women at the real seminar than here at this guest thing?" I grinned again, "Yep!" He enrolled.

[Years later I would reflect back on that evening as an example of one of the lessons our (Brian's and my) future mentor used drill into us, specifically - "People do things for their reasons. Not yours. So you have to listen. Listen for needs and wants. Then find ways to help those you are listening to. Assist them with what they seek. It's called service. It's the key to everything. Don't concern yourself about there being anything in it for you. Forget about that stuff. It's probably the most important lesson you can learn."]

That battalion to which we were assigned once had a proud and brilliant history. But by the time we found ourselves there its reputation had sunk to the point of being one of the most miserable places at Schofield to be assigned, full of dissention and in-fighting. In fact, it was rated the lowest battalion in the 25th Division. There was general defeatism and angst, and amongst the officers very little trust. In two words - it sucked. The two of us made a pact. We decided to experiment with what we learned from our seminar experiences to help us function on the job. Though we oversaw vastly different responsibilities we started helping each other out. I'd stay after hours and help him with his duties. He'd stay after hours and help me with mine. We'd interrupt (or walk away from) other soldiers' negativity or defeatist conversations, making it known that we didn't want to live and work in that kind of environment. This synergy and stand became infectious. Other officers - commissioned and non-commissioned - began to notice and some picked up on it. A year later the battalion was turned around and once again become a solid and effective organization. On the record and after having every test and inspection thrown at us, short of combat, we were officially ranked as the number one battalion in the Division.

One day Brian and I conspired to meet alone with Major General Harry Brooks, the Division's commanding general. We made an appointment and opened our allotted fifteen minutes by declaring, "Sir there's a two-day leadership workshop coming to town and we think YOU should go." Brooks was shocked at our abruptness. What happened next was maybe the longest 30 seconds of silence we had lived through, before or since. That's another story, but the bottom line was this: General Brooks spoke some unforgettable words: "What the hell. I don't know everything there is to know about leadership. I'll go. Now, do you two guys want anything else? If not, you're dismissed." Brooks went to that workshop. He was introduced to the Behavior Matrix, the Three R Thought Process and ways to find alternative perspectives for better communication. He loved what he found. He immediately put the notions into practice, and began exposing 15,000 soldiers to their potential. A brilliant example of a leader listening to and trusting his subordinates. This introduction of General Brooks to what we were up to would never have happened without Brian Klemmer.

Two years later. June 2, 1977. On this day Brian and I stood next to each other in Oakland, California. Our last day in uniform. We out-processed from the Army, changed clothes and immediately walked into new careers working for the same seminar company. We were off. I hopped a flight to Salt Lake City to teach a seminar. He drove north towards Lake County. We had stepped - shoulder to shoulder - into, and became part of, the world of the human potential.

For the next seventeen years we transited many incredible highs and many bizarre disappointments that came with this phase of our journey. At times he worked for me. Then, after he left the company and was launching his own infant organization, I too left. He offered me an opportunity to help him. So I subcontracted and briefly served his efforts.

Simply put, looking back over the last forty-three years -- we kept each other's back and we kept each other's sanity. If there were a foxhole to share, he'd be in mine and I would be in his. We tossed a few beers together. We problem solved together. We camouflaged our faces, dug fighting positions and went for days without sleep in the muck together. We dreamed about and planned possibilities together. We shared our confidences and we kept each other's confidences. We did what friends and comrades do - we worked with and fought with and smiled with and yelled at and partied with and argued with and celebrated with each other. We shared a hundred thousand laughs and at least as many tears.

For four plus decades we saw each other through joy and pain, through love and loss - and love again. We watched each other's children be born and grow and mess things up, and then stretch out and blossom to begin to become the "Who It Is" that they have within themselves To Be.

We didn't always see eye-to-eye.

But we did see heart-to-heart.

That's what our camaraderie was about.

Thursday, April 7. It's 8:30pm.

Today my friend, Brian Klemmer, lived his last day.

I'm walking around inside an empty post office in downtown Petaluma.

I've been staring at my cell phone for almost half an hour.

I loved this guy. He was a man of service.

We walked a long road together. I will miss him tremendously.

I call his home. His wife answers. She knows it's me.

I listen.

© Lance Giroux, April 2011

1 comment:

Tom Haupt said...

Beautifully said Lance. Brian spoke of you often along with the trials and tribulations of the years spent working side by side. He was a champion among men and a mentor of mine. Brian and his driven passion for making a difference in the world will be missed. I am blessed to have worked for him for the last five years. May our paths cross in the future. Tom