Lorenz on Leadership: Passing the baton of service to the next generation

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- On May 7, a friend and classmate, retired Lt. Col. Doug Dick, passed away after a six-year battle fighting cancer. Doug was commissioned in 1973, and after graduating from the Air Force Academy, he went on to earn a Master of Business Administration from UCLA. Following pilot training at Craig Air Force Base, Ala., he went on to fly KC-135s and later served at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio and Andrews AFB, Md., as a staff officer. After 20 years of service, he retired but continued to serve others as an elementary school teacher and principal in California.

During this entire time, Beverly, his wife of almost 39 years, was by his side. This included those very tough six years Doug fought to stay alive. Bev was there during the radiation treatments, the chemotherapy and the many surgeries.

The Dick family held the memorial service in California, where Doug had served as an elementary school principal for the last nine years. A week later this ceremony was followed by a graveside service at the Air Force Academy cemetery. Seven of his classmates attended the brief interment service. The chaplain said all the appropriate things, but it is hard to express the totality of a person's life that made such a difference in our Air Force and to thousands of young children as an elementary school teacher and principal. Also, it is hard to find the words that truly tell how he inspired all those around him during his six year fight with the cancer.

The day of this solemn interment ceremony at the Academy was also the day of the Academy Class of 2013's ring dance. My wife, Leslie, and I had been invited to attend the dance because our Class of 1973 had been designated as 2013's legacy class. When Bev heard that Leslie and I were going to the 2013 ring dance that very night, she asked if she could also attend. She explained that almost 40 years ago to the day, she was Doug's date to attend our class's ring dance and that it represented the real beginning of their shared service in our Air Force.

That night, Leslie, Bev and I got dressed up in our Sunday best and drove to the Academy to attend the Class of 2013's big night, the night they were awarded their class rings. We arrived to the sight of more than 2,000 cadets and their dates, eagerly anticipating a memorable evening. The women were young and beautiful and the men were young and handsome in their formal attire. The cadets had set up a World War II USO theme for the evening that included re-enactors dressed in period uniforms, military jeeps and trucks. The Air Force Academy band played nostalgic period songs, including tunes from Frank Sinatra.

After the rings were presented to the class and the cadets were beaming with pride, I watched Bev's reaction. From time to time, I could see tears well up in her eyes as she reflected back to her time as Doug's date some 40 years ago. You see, on that special evening long ago, Doug and Bev had their whole lives together ahead of them, just as the Class of 2013 now has their lives ahead of them. We thought we were immortal back then, just as they do now. As the three of us watched the cadets and their dates get into the spirit of the evening and begin to dance, Bev reminisced about all the fun and challenges that Doug and she had during their 20 years together in the Air Force. She talked about all the places they had lived and the friends they had made.

As the evening came to a close, I too reflected on Doug and Bev and thought about our friendship and our service together. Over the years, we have been fortunate in so many ways. We had the honor to serve our nation and form lasting friendships. I also thought about how fortunate the American public is. It is fortunate because there is a new generation represented by the Class of 2013 that is continuing the great tradition of service to the nation. The class rings they were awarded that night are a symbol of passing the baton of service from one generation of Airmen and spouses to another. I also know that not only the Class of 2013, but all our men and women around the globe serving their country are taking that baton and will never let it drop. It made me feel good to know that the United States of America is in such good hands. When we left the dance, I thought, Doug would have been proud.