W. Thomas Smith, Jr

Dear Michael,

Watching you grow into a man has been nothing less than humbling: joyous in ways almost impossible to describe, yet somehow wishing you were still the little boy who once traipsed with me through the woods and was content to draw pictures or listen to my simple versions of stories about the great people of history.

You always listened eagerly, asked lots of questions, and took heed when I explained some of the things of this world you needed to be aware of: The things you should prepare for. The realities you might expect. And what it would take for you to succeed in whatever you chose to do.

Now that you have graduated from high school and are beginning college and Naval ROTC, I hope you will listen to me again in the same way you did as a boy.

The advice I am about to give you is the same as I’ve always given in the sense that it is freely given from an uncle and a godfather who truly loves you like a son. But it is different in that it is specifically meant for you at 18, and about to take your rightful place in the world … and in the company of men.

The 25 points of young adulthood:

1. Pursue your college degree with a feverish commitment to the fact that there is nothing more important, more personally defining, and more necessary to who and what you will ultimately be in life. This commitment and pursuit to become a college graduate should come before all others, because without a college degree in the 21st century you may be destined for mediocrity at best.

2. If after a semester or so of ROTC, you choose to become an officer – I’ll need to write you an entirely new set of guidelines specifically for leadership – be the best officer and leader you can be: Always put your mission first. Those under your command should also be a priority seconded only to the mission (Do everything you can to protect your charges and see to their well-being). Look to yourself last. That doesn’t mean neglect your needs: You’re no good to anyone unless you take care of yourself. Just remember: Mission first, then the men, then you.

3. Exercise your body everyday.

4. Like your body, your brain needs exercise and stimulation. Read everyday, and not just simple material or books and articles you want to read. You should READ UP everyday. In other words, read books and articles that are personally challenging or difficult: Things that will force you to work your brain, think, and learn.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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