Winner Of The Losers

One man's life experiences and lessons

Archive for June, 2012

I attended Mount Vernon High School in Mount Vernon, Ohio.  The student graduation speakers were selected by a panel of judges after try-outs (any student could participate).  My recollection was there were approximately 20 students who made an audition from my Senior Class of 316 students.


In the end, there were three students selected to deliver speeches at graduation:

Edgar LaBenne, Michele Anderson and John Nussbaum.

Here is my speech I wrote and delivered at my high school graduation on the evening of 3 June 1983:  


Graduates, Family, Friends and Faculty.  Tonight marks the end of a phase of time in our lives that will be in our memory forever.  But tonight is not just an end, but a beginning.  Soon we are to be in sole charge of our destiny.  These really awesome responsibilities come early in our life and our preparation is rushed.

In an age of high technology, people can now expect ongoing changes in details and structure of information.  The mark of an educated person will no longer be how much he knows or the diplomas on his wall, rather it will be his ability to continue to learn the new material quickly and thoroughly.

Our education at Mount Vernon will serve as a good foundation for our life’s ambitions.  But we must not stop here.  We must, build upon our foundation and  reinforce our skills and talents.

On our trail in life we need to set goals, have enthusiasm, and confidence.

Goals are essential in life yet many fail to see their importance.  Establishing  goals can be easy. it involves analyzing three things:  objectives, alternatives and results.  Goals must be definite and specific, never vague.  Know what you want and keep it constantly in your mind.  It is extremely important for goals to be realistic too.  Goals can be achieved only if they lie within your potential. Know your capabilities but don’t underestimate them.  You also need to be able to overcome setbacks which can develop at anytime.  Adapt and learn from your mistakes.  When you’re working goals you need persistence, hard work and enthusiasm.

YES ENTHUSIASM!  Many people feel they can’t produce enthusiasm.  If so, they need to use the “as if” principle. This is done by acting as if you are bursting with enthusiasm.  After a period of time this attitude will become imbedded in your mind and it will no longer be necessary to act.  Enthusiasm can make the difference between success and failure.  Charles Schwab said, “One can succeed at almost anything for which he has unlimited enthusiasm.“  Enthusiasm is contagious like the measles and mumps- but it’s good for you.  Enthusiasm can produce faith and faith stimulates action!  The lack of self-confidence seems to be one of the greatest problems affecting people today.  Everywhere we go we encounter people who are afraid, who suffer from insecurity and are unsure of their own powers.

If you want to obtain the feeling of confidence the thoughts that are in your mind are important.  Think defeat and you are bound to feel defeated.  But if your thoughts are positive and consistent, your ability to overcome difficulties are within you.

Ralph Emerson once stated “They conquer who believe they can.”, and he added “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”

The recipe for a successful life lies in establishing realistic goals and maintaining a constant flow of enthusiasm, but the most important ingredient of all is to believe in yourself and your God.

Many of us have been admitted into college or planning to be employed, these opportunities are not given to us only because of what we have done, but for what we are expected to do!

 [PLAYLIST not found]


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admin On June - 18 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

I was the Scoutmaster of Troop 97, Blytheville Air Force Base, Arkansas 1988 to 1991.  I started with 5 boys and we grew to over 40 scouts.  Every month for over 3 years we camped at least 1 time, only missing the weekend that Saddam invaded Kuwait.  We went to seven states to camp, often in a big Blue Air Force bus and ton and half truck for the gear.

We traveled 1 to 2 hours and up to 7 hours when we went to the Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.   We would stop from time to time for bathroom break and of course for snacks.  I found out unregulated, you would have boys spending $5 to $10 on junk food.  It was crazy.  There were always be 3 or more boys that had NO money.  Something that I personally felt I needed to privately address.

It did not take long and I implemented the $1 Rule.  Any boy could get a drink, chips and/or candy, whatever you want for $1.  Only $1.  To ensure 40 boys would follow instructions, the Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) or his assistant would be at the cash register directing the affair.  If a regular customer came, the SPL would invite them to jump the line.

I  would make sure every boy had $1, even if it meant coming from our own pocket (other adult leaders were generous as well).   The $1 bill would be discreetly given.  It was my form of wealth redistribution.  LOL.

When my time had come to leave Blytheville, I would given many gifts, but the one that I remember and kept until this day is the $1 bill framed by Morgan Montgomery.  “Mr. LaBenne, I know I owe you more then $1, but I want you to have this one ($1) for always giving me so many $1.”

We both had a good laugh.

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admin On June - 9 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

Friends–Kind of long, but some thoughts on my travels and a few cool photos. Enjoy, Ed

8 OCT 2005


Last Saturday I returned home from Africa.  I would have never imagined as a NATO guy, I would be performing a mission in Africa.  But this was my second trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2 months. My first trip to Ethiopia was in late July for a week to set up the contracts for the NATO office, before I flew solo into Khartoum, Sudan enroute to El Fasher in the Darfur Region.


In the Sudan, I performed a recce (site visit) before we would send additional NATO personnel, assess the security situation and establish contracts/agreements for the life support for those to follow in Aug and Sep.


Some kids with me when we stop along a road my first night in El Fasher. An Italian officer took me out to see the “sights”

NATO was asked by the African Union (the AU is an organization of African nations which has its HQ in Ethiopia) to airlift over 3,500 troops from Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Senegal, Ghana and Gambia into the Sudan to perform as peacekeepers.  Over 90 days contributing nations (US, Germany, UK, Italy, Greece and Luxembourg) would provide aircraft or funds to contract airlift for 3,500 troops and 500 civilian police).  We also assisted the United Nations during an exercise to train the African militaries in Aug.  Finally, NATO sent a team of trainers into the Sudan to train 114 officers from various African nations during Sep.


Darfur is often in the news, as continued violence erupts in a region (the size of France, which is huge).  It has been a clash of religion, culture, and the haves and have nots.  An estimated 2 million people have been displaced because of the fighting in recent years.  Depending on whose  figures you want to use, between 200,000 and 300,000 have been killed.  The AU has 32 camps throughout the Darfur Region to monitor and protect the people.  I found out these camps were all built with US dollars via the Department of State.  I spent 5 days outside the city of El Fasher, where the AU HQ camp for the military operations in the Darfur is located.  There were 500 troops in the camp, with only 10 non-African personnel in attendance.  We are called  “International Experts” from Western countries. This area is by far the poorest of the poor I have ever seen.  I have been to +40 countries over my career and I can say without a doubt this was the most interesting TDY, and most challenging too (physically and mentally).

A local girl riding a donkey back home for the evening. The primary animal in Darfur was the donkey.


There were really two adventures in the Sudan: In El Fasher and then being stuck in Khartoum for 2 days. Actually the people in the Darfur Region were very friendly and I was very lucky to get to visit an IDP (individual displaced person) camp with 30,000 people, the local markets, and visit an UN guesthouse. I saw hundreds of nomads crossing the land and it just struck me: “Where are they going?”  They were traveling where there were no roads. It was like an episode of the “twilight zone”.  Soccer was very popular with all ages. Children were very interested in seeing and touching my white skin.


The real excitement started after the Sudanese Vice Pres John Garang “died” in a helicopter accident the day before I was to depart back to Khartoum (the capital).  Gararg was a rebel leader for 21 years against the Government of the Sudan and had only been in office 21 days. He was loved by the people in the Southern Sudan (Darfur). There were rumors of riots in Khartoum.  I had to decide do I stay in El Fasher or do I try to get out? I called back to Ethiopia on my SAT phone to confirm if Ethiopia Air was still flying tonight.  I get a call back: “Yes, but 5 hours earlier because of the curfew in Khartoum.” What curfew? The one just imposed from 1800 hrs to 0600 hrs and enforced by thousands of 18-20 years olds, riding 10-12 in the back of pick-up trucks with AK-47s and positioned at key intersections in the city.

My favorite of a mother with her baby on her back as she was making a wall for a family compound in the IDP (individual displaced person) camp.


The day it was announced he died in an accident, riots broke out and over 130 died in two days in the capital (Khartoum), where I had to fly into and out of the country. I did not know the situation on the ground as I prepared to depart El Fasher, but I figured I’d better to get out of the country if I could.  Maybe stupid, but once my mission is done, my focus is always to exit home.


My first chance on an airplane out of El Fasher was cancelled at 0830 hrs because it would not be allowed to leave Khartoum once it landed. I was very lucky to be able to get on the only commercial flight of the day at 1030 hrs.  The takeoff was delayed about 90 minutes and we were delayed again in Nyala before going airborne again to Khartoum.  After finally landing in Khartoum, I could not get to the International Terminal fast enough. When I got there, they had already boarded the flight and would not let me process. I am now stuck in Khartoum.  Not cool.


I was a man with no transportation or arrangements and it less than 2 hours from curfew in a city in turmoil. OK – time to look tough and make sure I watch my back. I was in the Haj (Pilgrim) Terminal which could process thousands of passengers and there were only a handful of locals and me.  I got outside, pulled out my SAT phone and called the only number (be prepared) I had for the US Embassy defense attaché (every Embassy has a few military folks assigned).  I explained who I was and asked for a pick up. “Hang tight and don’t move, we’ll be there to get you.”  Where was I going to go?  In less than 10 minutes (seemed like an hour), an Army Lt Col was there to get me.  He took me to an US Embassy housing compound (very secure) where I ended up spending two nights and during the day I worked in the Embassy.


There were more shootings the next day near the airport (which we have to go around to get between the housing compound and the Embassy) and they locked down the Embassy in the afternoon.  Finally, the lock down on the Embassy was lifted.  We head to our quarters before curfew on Day 2.  On a four-lane highway along the airport, we get a flat tire.  This is not cool either. “I think it’s time for a Hail Mary.”  We make a turn and pull over away from the major traffic.  We are vulnerable from every angle and we know it.  Now it is time to figure out the spare tire on a rented vehicle. There are hundreds of locals within 500 yards. Wish I had a tape, because we could have used it as an audition to be on a NASCAR pit crew.  Here are 3 of us (Army, AF and Navy) trying to figure where everything is to swap out the tire.

A shot of ladies in the IDP camp at the water well.


We are in civilian attire, it is hot as hell outside, and curfew is within minutes. Thank God, we had everything we needed.  Matt is completely focused on changing the tire.  I’m helping, but watching like crazy our surroundings; from time to time people are coming up either asking to help (like they have experience) or asking for money.  I’m trying to keep the locals a few feet away.  Inside the vehicle, there are two small backpacks with M-9s (just in case we have to defend ourselves).  Inside my head, I’m thinking: “Please God, get this guy away from us.” Twice I have to position myself to get into the vehicle just in case, but the threats moved on and we got back to work.  We got the spare tire changed, we jumped back in and make our way to the compound.


Well another wild experience to add to my 18 years in the military.  The Sudan is clearly off my vacation list and desirable repeat TDY location.  Attached are a few photos from the deep in the Southern Sudan in the Darfur Region, near El Fasher.

A pretty neat photo of two ladies who were walking home just as a dust storm was approaching and you can see it behind them.

NOTE:  If I had stayed in El Fasher, the next day, I would have been impacted by a flash flood and 2 feet of standing water the in the military camp I was just in.  Lord knows how long I would have been stuck there.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  It is amazing the efforts around the world to bring peace by the US and our friends.  It is eye opening to see first hand.  I have had young and old people come to me thanking me for what America has done for them in so many countries.  I honestly do not think many folks truly understand the magnitude of the efforts on-going around the world, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But there is no doubt in my mind, I am lucky to be part of the strongest military force in the greatest country on earth.

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admin On June - 9 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

My greatest positive influence while growing up was my involvement in the Boy Scouts.  I earned the rank of Eagle Scout and it was presented to me in a ceremony in my hometown, Mount Vernon, Ohio, when I was 16 years old.  The first Eagle Scout medal was awarded in 1912 (100 hundred years ago) to ArthurRoseEldred, a 17-year-old member of Troop 1 of Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York.  Over the years, the Eagle Scout rank has been earned by more than 2 million young men.  Of 100 hundred boys who join Scouting, only 3 will became an Eagle Scout.



A tradition during the ceremony is to give the newest Eagle Scout a Charge (or Challenge).  I asked Mr. John M. Miller, one of our Troop 332 Committee members to give me my Charge.  Over the years, Mr. Miller actually presented several Charges, each one was personally written for the young man.  Below is my Charge.  The photo was from my ceremony, Mr Miller is at the podium giving me my Charge.




Edgar John LaBenne





It’s knowledge, skill and dedication that keeps a great ship sailing safely over the trackless oceans to a safe harbour.  The master of that ship likely started as a small boy, sailing his cat boat on a small lake. With increasing age, his growing enthusiasm for the sea lead him to seek further knowledge in navigation, meteorology, seamanship – all the sciences related to his life’s ambition.  Then came years of apprenticeship, while he practiced his skills.  Finally, he becomes the master of a great ship in his own right.


Mister LaBenne, you are like a great ship.  There is no other vessel quite like yours.  Soon, you are to be in sole charge of your destiny.  These really awesome responsibilities come early in our life.  Our preparation is rushed opportunity to practice our skills is limited, we’re launched into Manhood before some of us are really to hoist sail.


Mister LaBenne, you have blessed with exceptional parents.  They have made great effort to see that you are well prepared for your Voyage.


Mister LaBenne, you are an exceptional person.  You have responded with enthusiasm to your parents wise counsel.  And further, you have shown commendable initiative in seeking and discharging increasing responsibilities.


Now Mister LaBenne, your ship is being provisioned for the Voyage of Life.  Soon you will cast off, glide down the harbour, past the lighthouse and out onto the High Seas, to encounter the vicissitudes of life. Yes,  you will becalmed, drifting aimlessly, filled with doubts.  Other times storms will beset you, some of which you will sail through.  Others you will recognize as being too powerful.  You must prudently change course, lest your ship be wrecked.  And yes, there will be times of fair seas and favorable winds.


Mister LaBenne, you need not sail this sea alone!   Christ will sail with you, if you but invite Him.  And this my charge to you, that never in your life do you think a thought,  say a word or do a deed,  without first reflecting,  “Would He do it this way?”


So, sail on Mister LaBenne.  You have charted a good course.  Hold her steady as she goes.  You’ll weather the storm; you’ll stay clear of the rocks;  you’ll not founder on a reef.  Then, at the end of your Voyage, you’ll happily enter the snug harbour God has prepared for those who love him! Bon Voyage!



Saturday, the seventh day of March

Nineteen hundred and eighty-one

St Vincent de Paul School Gym

Mt Vernon, Ohio   7:30 PM


Written and delivered by John M. Miller



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