Commentary

This officer, the 3rd woman to graduate Ranger School, discusses how respect can be earned

A discussion about respect by Lt. Col. (Reserve) Lisa A. Jaster, 980th EN BN commander. Jaster is one of three women and the first reservist to graduate from the initial integrated Ranger School course in 2015. She likes to emphasize that graduating from Ranger School was an accomplishment but doesn’t view earning the Ranger Tab as her life’s crowning achievement. Being a citizen-soldier requires daily work in mind, body, and spirit. Respect is earned, never given.

As I write this, my 8-year-old daughter is competing in jiu-jitsu tournament while my 12-year-old son participates in a robotics competition. At the end of the day, both will walk into their respective rooms, or not, and hang their medals on racks that read “Always Earned, Never Given.” Respect is earned in one of two ways. The first is accomplishing something that few others can do such as winning a Nobel Prize or an Olympic medal. But for the vast majority of us, respect is earned through consistent excellence and small, but meaningful, achievements over great periods of time. But, no matter how you gain respect, you can always lose it.

Recently, I posted about earning respect “every….damn….day.” This doesn’t mean a person needs to climb Kilimanjaro one day and then summit McKinley the next. For me, earning daily respect is part of who I want to be, therefore, it is part of my routine. As it pertains to my Army career, it’s both an honor and a huge responsibility to be selected for battalion command. The Army charged me with the care of America’s sons and daughters. Therefore, my daily grind centers on constantly building myself into the leader that my soldiers deserve and will be willing to follow regardless of my rank, not because of it. Soldiers are professionals, but respect and followership generated solely by rank structure is a failed leadership model.

Being physically fit, technically and tactically proficient, and socially aware are job requirements. Each of these aspects of the profession of arms takes regular, if not daily, maintenance. What happens when I am standing in formation with the soldiers in my physical fitness uniform where you cannot see my rank or school identifiers? Many of the 1,200-plus soldiers in the 980th Engineer Battalion couldn’t pick me out of a two-person line up. I must be the standard bearer. I cannot lead from the front if I get lost in the woods or fall out of runs or miss the critical impacts of current events. At 5′4″, 140 pounds, I am not physically imposing; and when I walk into a room, I don’t command it with just a glance. I must wage a patient campaign for respect compared with many of my peers. The good news is there are many paths for gaining respect. For me, it usually takes a few meetings and maybe a formation run or two. Soldiers, almost to a person, respect physicality. Unfortunately, the physical aspects do not come for free. At 43, I really have to push this old body hard and often so I can be fast enough and strong enough to be worthy of respect and followership. But I don’t think of it as a chore. There are few greater honors than being out in front of American’s finest fighting men and women.

An early morning workout for Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster. (Courtesy)
An early morning workout for Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster. (Courtesy)

Of course, there’s much more to respect than just physical traits. Depending on the room I am in, being physically fit may not have any meaning at all. My deadlift PR (personal record) doesn’t really matter in my officer professional development with my boss and other field-grade officers. In that arena, intellect and character matter. The path to respect in these situations requires even more devotion and time than fitness. Intellect and wisdom take a lifetime of devotion to achieve. For me, this revolves around making reading a priority in my life. I read hard copy books, but I also try to fill my commute with audiobooks and maybe a podcast or two. College is really the last time in my life where I was forced to read. After that, reading is self-imposed. As a Reserve soldier, if I’m expected to be able to integrate with my active component counterparts or effectively lead really bright soldiers, I need to have some breadth and depth. Being well-read is a great way to be respected intellectually.

My daily work doesn’t end with Army training. I am also a mom, wife, Christian, athlete, and a manager/engineer. Each of these hats include a minimum standard that I need to uphold from learning to moral living. It takes daily work to develop myself under the whole-person concept — mind, body, and spirit.

There is a secondary aspect of respect, and that is maintaining and protecting the reputation that earned your respect. Since I was kid, I have used my mom as a behavioral litmus. If I could call her and tell her about my activity, it was probably OK. I love Capt. D. Michael Abashoff’s test he references in “It’s Your Ship.” He talks about how he would feel if one of his command decisions ended up on the cover of the newspaper. If he could confidently own that decision, even if it wasn’t a popular one, then it was the right one. Some accomplishments are so extraordinary that they can result in lifetime respect, and even though Medal of Honor recipients, Olympic medalists, or Nobel laureates have achieved so much that they are basically done proving themselves for life, they can quickly lose it all. Individuals like that, though completely out of the proving business, will spend a lifetime protecting the respect they earned. There’s a long list of Heisman Trophy winners who fall from grace for actions after their grand achievement. Respect is like trust in that it is fragile and difficult to earn and easy to lose. One drunk driving incident, lude social media post, or hateful comment could lose hard-won admiration. We must all be careful to not let our talents take us places our character can’t keep us.

Florent Groberg is a true personification of patriotism who continues to demonstrate the Army values daily. Being awesome in battle once gains the love and loyalty of most Americans. But one poor decision could lose that respect. Flo is one of my favorite military personalities to follow and try to emulate. His social media shows his ups and his downs, demonstrating a desire to better himself. His actions in combat earned him the Medal of Honor, making him a hero. His actions in day-to-day life make him a man of character.

In 2015, I had the opportunity to attend Ranger School and earn the coveted Ranger Tab. The RIs (Ranger Instructors) used to talk about baring the tab versus wearing the tab. Part of the Ranger Creed includes “I accept the fact that as a Ranger, my country expects me to move further, faster, and fight harder than any other Soldier.” Each of the six stanzas talk about upholding standards and continual self-improvement. I don’t know if I live up to the Ranger Creed. I know I have a long way to go to reach the likes of Flo Groberg. But what I do know is that I want respect from my co-workers, soldiers, and especially my family; therefore, I will try to earn it every…damn…day.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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