Will you deliver your “message to Garcia”?
By Col. Christopher May, 436th Maintenance Group commander
/ Published February 12, 2019
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- As you know, we have three basic core values, all of which are equally important. I’d like to take a moment to discuss a short essay regarding those values, especially as it pertains to commitment and, more importantly, selfless service.
In 1899, Elbert Hubbard wrote an essay about a daring adventure undertaken by Army Lt. Andrew Rowan. Rowan was a man of strong conviction and character and, as a result, he was personally selected by none other than President William McKinley to deliver a message to Cuban Gen. Calixto Garcia, the leader of the insurgency in Cuba prior to the Spanish-American War. This message was of utmost importance because its purpose was to build a partnership with the insurgents prior to a potential invasion.
Rowan had no idea where Garcia was, having been simply told Garcia was “somewhere in the mountains of Cuba” and that the president needed him to deliver a personal message.
Hubbard’s essay states, “Someone said to the president, ‘There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.’ Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How ‘the fellow by the name of Rowan’ took the letter, sealed it up in an oilskin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba by an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot and delivered his letter to Garcia, are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.”
Although there are disparities about whether Rowan was actually sent alone to find Garcia, the fact remains that leaders, then and now, are always in need of personnel (i.e., Airmen) who understand what it means to commit to selfless service. Those same leaders must also understand the need to provide the same in turn. This could manifest itself as a dedicated crew chief voluntarily working longer to finish repairing aircraft or a brand new Airman identifying a problem and taking the initiative to fix it without prompting. Leaders, in turn, provide resources, vision and, more importantly, their support to the Rowans of the world, creating an environment in which people thrive. Gen. George S. Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things; tell them what to do, and let them surprise you with their results.”
Hubbard concludes by saying, “Anything such a man asks shall be granted; his kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town and village – in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such; he is needed and needed badly – the man who can carry a message to Garcia.”
Many variations of this particular story exist, but its message remains the same: perseverance, commitment and selfless service – all traits that are reflected in our three core values. These traits are what make the men and women of the United States Air Force so remarkable.
So, let me ask you: Are you ready to deliver your “message to Garcia”?