Leaving a lasting impression

  • Published
  • By Capt. Sheryll Klinkel
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs chief
As service members, we can meet hundreds, if not thousands, of people throughout a career. Some of the people you will meet will leave lasting impressions that will influence and guide you professionally and personally. Perhaps it is a commander, a first sergeant, a supervisor or a strong NCO. For me, one person was a senior NCO, who was also my father.

My father joined the Army in 1967 during the Vietnam War to avoid going to college. His father did not have faith that he would do well in the Army, but after thirty 30 years of service, he retired a proud sergeant major.

He was your typical sergeant major -- short-tempered, brutally honest and stern. He was the type to lead from the front; he always set the example for his troops. He gloated about running faster than his youngest Soldiers during physical training, not to make them feel bad, but to motivate them to try harder.

"When I first enlisted, I could barely pass my PT test," said my dad. "But now, I can run faster than any of these young privates and I'm twice their age."

My dad wasn't perfect, and he definitely had weaknesses, but he was fully aware of them. He had a good sense of humor, and he joked that he wasn't smart enough to join the Air Force. Or he would laugh about how his friends had to carry him to finish PT because he was so out of shape when he was in boot camp.

Because he knew his weaknesses, he developed a positive attitude that allowed him to transform his weaknesses into strengths. It took a lot of hard work, time and dedication, but he always set out to improve himself. He eventually earned his bachelor's degree, a black belt in Karate and he ran every day for fun.

Even after his retirement, my dad's positive attitude continued. In September 2009, my whole family was shocked with the news that he was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. With his attitude, he was determined to beat the disease, so he did what he knew and he fought. He fought his doctors, who said he would only have six months to live. He fought Tricare, who said he had to get treatment locally. Within two months, he relocated with my mother to Houston, Texas, to receive treatment from one of the world's top-rated cancer treatment centers, M.D. Anderson.

An aggressive combination of radiation and chemotherapy was prescribed to him on a weekly basis. The first few sessions were surprising, as he did not react like most patients.
"It's his attitude -- he's a fighter," said his nurse and doctor.

After a month of treatment, my dad was playing tennis and running three miles. We all thought he was going to be one of the few people who would beat the often terminal form of cancer. His doctors and nurses were very optimistic as his test results showed cancer cells shrinking.

Then things turned for the worse in April, and his treatment stopped working. The doctors began trying other options, different types of medication and different doses, but his body was getting weaker and he was reacting harshly to the therapy. Trips to the emergency room were becoming routine; he was always dehydrated, lethargic and he couldn't keep his food down.

Gradually, his trips to the emergency room extended into longer stays so the doctors could monitor him more closely. Almost every weekend, I drove to visit him in the hospital and he continued to keep his positive attitude. He joked about the gross hospital food and he pestered me to deploy to Afghanistan to do my part. Despite his good mood, his body was slowly giving up as he started to drift in and out of consciousness regularly.

My father passed away June 17, 2010. Several of his friends and coworkers from the Army, who knew him early in his career, made the time to pay their last respects. Even after decades, they shared stories and recalled his positive, fighting attitude, and they described how my dad pushed them and influenced their careers too. His attitude impacted so many people.

It was his example that motivated me to go to apply for scholarships, go to college and join the Air Force. When I was unsatisfied with my job, it was my dad who encouraged me to stay in the military, to try something new, volunteer for different jobs and eventually cross-train. Even though I was hesitant to go on my first deployment, he said it would be a good experience and it would make me a better officer and leader.

Even in death, my father continues to influence me by the examples he set during his military career and through his battle against cancer. I continue to challenge myself professionally, mentally and physically. There are a lot of things in life we cannot control, but one thing we can control is our attitude and that's probably the most important lesson my dad shared with others and me.

Now, think about those people who have influenced your life and what you have learned from them. More importantly, think about how you might impact someone else. Even in a one-year remote tour at Kunsan Air Base, we all have the ability to make someone or something better, or worse. What kind of lasting impressions do you want to leave?