Inspired to Leave with Love

By Brad McEwen

Although military service was once common in my family’s background, it’s been a few generations since any McEwen’s have served in their country’s armed forces.

Maybe it’s because I never knew my World War II Army Air Corps-serving grandfather, or because my dad was precluded from serving due to health and family reasons, but really the notion of joining the armed services was just never something I thought about growing up.

Sure, like most kids my age, I played with GI Joe’s and engaged in the occasional game of “war” with neighborhood friends, but becoming a soldier, airman, sailor, or Marine was just never one of my goals.

That said, since as far back as I can remember I’ve had a deep fascination with the men and women who make the choice to give up a part of themselves and put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms.

That’s the initial reason I was intrigued by the opportunity to interview 2013 Deerfield-Windsor School graduate, and Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenant Patrick Forrestal, as he prepares to finish his time at the prestigious United States Naval Academy before heading to The Basic School in Quantico, VA in March for Marine officer training.

After conducting that interview, however, I learned there several other things about the young man that were just as impressive to me as the fact that he’s chosen to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by attending the Naval Academy and serving his country (his father’s stepdad was also a WWII veteran).

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that I uncovered about Patrick during our long-distance interview, is that the young Marine is not only humble and appreciative of things he’s been fortunate to achieve in his 23 years, but that he understands and is grateful for the positive influence others have had on shaping his outlook on life.

Throughout our chat, Patrick talked about the powerful impact of the many mentors he’s had in his life and it was clear as he talked about the values they instilled in him that the young man has wisdom beyond his years.

A standout athlete that excelled in numerous youth sports—before eventually honing the football skills that not only helped his DWS Knights to state championship wins in 2010 and 2012, but also earned him a spot playing Division 1 football for Navy—a great many of Patrick’s early influences were the coaches that helped impart positive values to the young athlete.

“Everything I did in Albany revolved around sports,” Patrick told me. “I grew up playing Dixie baseball in the spring and spending my weekends at the ball park. I played basketball and football in Deerfield’s Junior Pro program and I was coached by guys like Paul Reese and Andre Young who went on to play college sports. They were big inspirations for me.

“I had coaches and faculty members at Deerfield who influenced me a lot. Coaches like Colie Young, Graham and Allen Lowe, Ty Kinslow, Rod Murray and Craig Rhodes were great coaches and great men who taught me a lot about sports and leadership.”

While sports were certainly a huge part of Patrick’s life at Deerfield-Windsor, he’s also quick to point out the influence of others connected to the school, like then Headmaster W.T. Henry. Interestingly, he also had some important exposure to the values of the military through other local mentors.

“W.T. Henry was our headmaster growing up and he taught us a lot about integrity and character,” Patrick said. “I had Marine Corps influence in Albany from Gen. Chuck Hudson, Col. Yuri Escalante and MGySgt. Jason Spangenberg, who were all stationed at MCLB while I was in high school.

“Gen. Hudson, I graduated with his daughter and Col. Escalante, his son was in my younger brother’s class and they were friends with my mom, so my mom starting putting me in touch with them.

“One of the things Gen. Hudson did for me was put me in touch with a Marine and helped me get in shape cause they thought since I was going to basic training I need to get into military PT shape. I started working out with MGySgt. Spandenberg so I had big influences from them too.

“Again Col. Escalante and Gen. Hudson were just really down to Earth, really good family men, great fathers, great men.

“They’re just men of high character, you know. (They) won’t lie. (They) will do what’s right and have a high integrity—just being selfless. I think those are kind of the big things that I’ve seen in those officers that I want to be like. They are guys who are unwavering in their commitments, you know. If they commit to do something, they’ll do it.”

While the notions of discipline, working as a team, and focusing on the details were certainly lessons Patrick learned in high school and carried with him to the Naval Academy, he said his understanding of those things, and the importance of becoming a leader continued to blossom once he arrived in Annapolis and joined his fellow Midshipmen.

In Patrick’s case, despite having a family history of military service, a big driver of his decision to attend Navy came from the fact that he was recruited to play football there. By his own admission, there were a great many things he didn’t know about the military and he said he was indoctrinated very quickly starting with what is known as “Plebe summer,” which kicks off the freshman, “Plebe year.”

“Your first year here is definitely the toughest,” he said. “I left all my closest friends in Albany who were all I had known. They’d been my best friends. The community had been the only community I had known. And I’m leaving my girlfriend and family behind and that was a lot.

“To me Plebe summer was the hardest thing I’d ever really been through. You got to get your head shaved and you just have people yelling at you. You’re learning all these new things about the military you just didn’t know. And it carries over into your freshman year, your Plebe year.

“You’re the lowest of the low at the Naval Academy (during Plebe year). You greet everyone as sir or ma’am and you have to use Mr. and Miss and the last name. Once you’re in the dorms you have to run everywhere you go in the middle of the hallways. It’s just a weird dynamic that I guess if you’re outside the Naval Academy you don’t understand.”

Despite the difficulties of being a Plebe trying to get used to life in the military, the demands of college and life away from everything he’d ever known, Patrick said he can see clearly the benefits of that year. The things he learned, he said, continue to have an impact on how he views teamwork, dealing with adversity and leadership.

“I think they kind of try to break you down a little bit AND show you that you can, you know, push through it,” he explained. “As a freshman it was tough—missing your family, missing your girlfriend—all that was really tough. What really helped me get through it was being on the football team and having 50 or 60 guys who were also freshmen football players going through the same trials I went through and being able to lean on them and laugh with them that about all that kind of stuff.

“Everyone around you that’s a sophomore and above is basically a leader to you. They can tell you what to do and whatnot. So, you get a lot of good examples of good leadership and examples of bad leadership. You kind of get a lot of good leadership principles early on. You get to kind of shape early on what kind of leader you want to be.”

Patrick said he’s continued to learn about leadership styles even though his playing days are over as he’s currently working as a graduate assistant with the football team.

“I talked about some of the influences I had from the football team here—like looking at Lt. Col R.B. Green—he’s a coach here now and he played football here in the 90s and he’s from Atlanta,” Patrick said. “He’s a big mentor to me. He showed me how Marines are—that they don’t really fit into one mold. He’s a really down to Earth guy, really good to talk to, really funny. And he molded us when we first got to Navy and got to the football team. I mean, he would discipline us if he had to, but he showed us a lot of love and really brought us into the team.”

While a great many of the individuals who’ve had an impact on Patrick’s life have been connected to either sports, school or the military, he was also very adamant about the importance of the profound influence Young Life and a few of its leaders have had on him.

“Guys like Brad Elliott and Bryan Elder were great mentors for me,” Patrick said fondly. “They were such a great influence on me, not only as a Christian, but just as a person, you know—as a teacher, husband and father. It was cool to see Brad and (wife) Angie work together with Young Life. And Bryan and (wife) Mary worked together.

“You could kind of get a look at their relationship and you could see them as parents. You know the love they had for each other was kind of centered around their love they had with Christ.

“Brad and Bryan, they were just great men. Both would have us over for dinner on Sunday nights with my close friends from Young Life from Deerfield and we’d just talk about the Bible, but also just talk about principles of being Christian fathers and men and whatnot. I think they showed us what it was like to be a normal guy, you know. I looked up to Bryan and Brad as being cool, older guys. And they showed us that you could be a cool, older guy and still live like a Christian and be a good father and husband. That’s what they really showed me.”

The idea of Patrick seeing qualities in others that he wants to model as he ages also extends to his view of his own family. Patrick described his father as being an important influence on his love of sports and on always staying focused on academics.

Patrick also had particular praise for his mother, who he said has taught him a lot through her dedication to her family during what he understands now were fairly difficult times for her.

“My mom raised me to dream big and pursue those dreams, but she also taught me that I had to work hard for what I wanted,” he said. “She showed me what hard work really is. She went back to work after my parents divorced to support me and my siblings and stayed in Albany by herself for us to finish at Deerfield. She always had faith in me and has been a huge source of encouragement in my journey.

“Once my dad left [to take a job in Atlanta after Merck closed its Albany location], I think we took it for granted we’d be in Albany and that it was really tough on my mom. She had family in Atlanta and for her to be in Albany by herself raising two boys [older brother Tommy and older sister Brittany had already left home, while Patrick and younger brother Brian were still at home], we kind of realized what sacrifice was.

“I realize now how much of a sacrifice that was for her to be away from family, to be fighting for better jobs to make a good wage and be able to sustain us down there. I think in high school I kind of took it for granted that she was sacrificing a lot for us.

“I think I understand more that you really have to sacrifice for the ones you love. She showed me what hard work really is and that was big. Sacrificing for your loved ones—if it means enough to you, you’ll do whatever it takes. I think that’s what she showed me.”

That focus on sacrifice and working hard served Patrick well not only as a student at the Naval Academy but also as a Navy football player. Although he had tasted success while at Deerfield, Patrick said what he experienced playing at Navy was far more intense.

“What I found out about football at the college level is, it’s so much more detailed,” he said. “In high school I played offensive line, defensive line, started both ways and you have skilled guys who are playing every position on the field. When you come to the college level, you’re playing one position and you have to master that position. If you don’t, you really probably won’t see the field.

“Even if you have all these physical abilities, you really have to have a good mental understanding of the game to really play. I think that was one of the biggest things. I noticed.”

Patrick said he also noticed a difference in the coaching as well, where the structure of the team’s staff made it possible for the coaches to spend more time focusing strictly on the game and their players.

“I think a lot of it comes down to coaching at the college level,” Patrick explained. “That’s their only job. They’re in the office all day studying film and whatnot and when you’re in high school, they’re also administrators and faculty members and whatnot. So you just get a different level of teaching in college.”

That Patrick would immediately focus on the type of teaching he received upon arrival at the Naval Academy made perfect sense based on my conversation with him. It was obviously throughout our discussion that Patrick has an innate ability to absorb the positive influence of others.

While I’ve always been one to pay close attention to the world around me, I can definitely say that in my teenage years and into my early 20s I wasn’t absorbing the deeper lessons the mentors in my life might have been teaching through their actions.

And I definitely wasn’t recognizing leadership styles others and having conversations with my influences about what it means to be a husband and father. So, talking with an impressive young man like Patrick—one who has not only made a decision to make sacrifices for his country, but who has begun a journey toward becoming a leader in his own right—was truly awe-inspiring.

It was also fascinating to see how the mentors in his life have inspired him to foster his own dreams of being a mentor to others.

After talking to me about the different types of leadership he has been exposed to, I asked Patrick what kind of leader he hoped to be and his answer made perfect sense.

“One of the things they talk about a lot is leading with love,” Patrick said. “So, if you love someone you’re gonna do whatever is best for them. That also means that if they need to be disciplined or something, you’ll do it.

“You might think that if you’re leading by love it might seem like a softer approach, but I think that’s really the best way to lead, you know. You’ll do whatever for this person, whether that will be tough for them or not. If someone needs a little less harsh leadership approach, that’s where that love comes in too. You can help someone out. I guess for me it’s like leading everyone like they’re your younger brother. You get to be tough on them, but it’s for their good. Leading with love.”

With a mindset like that—which comes from being the product of great mentors and leaders (many he encountered right here in Albany)—I have no doubt Patrick will see success during Basic School and beyond.

While he doesn’t yet know what he’ll ultimately do after completing his current enlistment, I doubt Patrick will have any trouble achieving what he said is absolutely a future goal.

“I think kind of that role of mentoring, leading young people, that’s something I’m interested in,” he said.

If Patrick Forrestal is able to convey to others the lessons he’s been taught by so many mentors and coaches, I have complete confidence that the young people he’ll one day inspire will have a bright future.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen