Too often we memorialize someone when he/she passes. Well I want to turn that upside down and give a shout out to an incredibly special person who I’m proud to call friend and fellow American/human. Stage 4 cancer has a death grip on him but he keeps hanging on (and he’ll kick my ass for outing him!). He lives the ‘Quiet Professional’ ethos through and through but Baldy, may you inspire others as you’ve inspired me and so many!
Baldy - A True Role Model
My friend Baldy fought Bad Guys all over the world. But now he’s dying of cancer. Cancer will accomplish what Daesh, Al Qaeda, Taliban et al never could.
But I don’t want to talk about his death or his dying. I want to talk about his life and share traits of a true role model, whose way of life is truly inspirational. I count in single digits the times I’ve called someone a ‘hero’ (in my mind, it’s become a pretty watered down word). But my friend is a hero in my eyes and I want to share some things that I learned from him as well as hope to emulate.
Baldy served in the most elite units the U.S. Army has to offer. We both grew to manhood while serving together in B Co 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. After our respective stints there, while I transitioned to my civilian career, Baldy moved onto 10th Special Forces Group and then became Lead Instructor at the Military Freefall School. He then went onto serve in three (3 – not one, not two, but three) Special Mission Units in JSOC. But just as this is not a story of death or dying, this is not a story of Baldy’s career or bona fides.
It is a story about life, leadership and accomplishing the Mission, whatever it takes.
Let’s start with a recent memory. Baldy had a ‘Going Away (Fuck Cancer) Party’ at his home outside Fort Bragg. It was a really fun day – and night. By day, Baldy was playing with his young grandson, other kids and hanging out with families. Night was a different story…I will be a gentleman and not share any details of our evening escapades. But oh man did we have fun!
Anyway I had the honor of being around some of the most seasoned and hardcore Warriors on the face of this earth. Men who look Evil in the eye for a living. During one part of the afternoon, spontaneously there were toasts to Baldy. I watched these men who have been in war and chaos with Baldy, talk about Baldy’s selflessness; his humility; his Zen in the face of all adversity; and his always putting the Mission above himself. I watched grown men cry, mourning the pending loss of a great one. And truth be told, I shed a few tears myself.
You would never know any of this to look at Baldy or talk with him. He is extremely humble and doesn’t have the ‘look’ that Hollywood portrays for Operators (yes – there’s another very overused word – but in this case, Baldy’s Delta Force bona fides necessitates his being called such). He’s called Baldy not just because his last name is Baldwin, but because in Ranger Battalion he lost a bet and as a result, had to keep his head shaved bald for a year. The hair came back, but the name stuck.
You won’t find anyone who will have a bad word to say about Baldy. At least none of the Good Guys. (I imagine terrorists and other Bad Guys might be kinda pissed off at him, but I’m OK with that.) Everyone I know who hears his name, smiles; and usually it’s accompanied by a laugh and a ‘remember when…?’ with another laugh. I’ve been told that senior Generals and Admirals are known to bellow out ‘’Baldy!” upon seeing him and grab his skinny ass in a big ol’ bear hug. He became friends with President George & Mrs. Barbara Bush while instructing and free falling with President Bush. I found this out just because I was in Baldy’s house and happened to see a picture of Baldy with the Bushes. So I asked him about it...otherwise I wouldn’t have known. He’ll probably kick my ass, cancer and all, just for opening my big fat mouth and saying this. He’s all about being the Quiet Professional.
A bunch of guys from Baldy’s tenure at 10th Special Forces Group are dying of cancer. Last year, in one month alone, three of them died. RIP Warriors! My heart filled with anger and frustration – wtf?!? How could Uncle Sam allow that to happen? These men all go above and beyond for us on a regular basis. I mean, we know there are risks, but this isn’t death from a bullet, an IED or a knife but…cancer?!?
So I told Baldy that it really pissed me off. I asked him how he felt about it. Very calmly and matter of factly, Baldy told me that he’s working with a team of doctors on his case. For a minute I got excited and asked if they had any leads that could help him out. He smiled and told me that it’s too late for him, but maybe – just maybe – his case could help save or prolong another life. So even with Stage 4 cancer, Baldy’s aim is to help others.
He challenges preconceived notions with knowledge, mental dexterity and grace. He is constantly looking for a better way. He’s all about preparation and planning. He is sometimes not very politically correct if that means better performance. He’s all about the Team and accomplishing the mission. It’s never about Baldy. Even when it’s about Baldy - in life (like at his party), or death (working his case with the doctors) - it’s not about Baldy, it’s about others.
Baldy’s body will lose this battle. It’s just a matter of time. But we can choose to carry a piece of Baldy with us. Personally, I aspire to have just a sliver of the spirit of Baldy within me and my actions.
(Check out another Baldy appearance in Steve's Tool concert story, here.)
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