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Like so many Americans in the past 13 years of conflict, the news of another Soldier’s death and more wounded earlier this month in Afghanistan hit home and hit harder than usual.

I knew General Harry Greene. We had served together on the Army staff in the Pentagon as the war in Iraq wound down and the surge in Afghanistan took place.

These deaths again reminded me that we are remembered by the trace we leave. In 2008 I went to an interment at Arlington National Cemetery. The deceased was the dad of a Soldier I served with. The dad was 70+ years of age, 50+ years married, over 28 years of Army service culminating as a “Master Sergeant” (what else needs to be said besides the words “Master Sergeant”?) and his years included service in the Cold War and Vietnam. As we prepared to inter his remains, the civilian priest designated for the service asked the family, “I didn’t know your husband and father. To assist me in making my remarks, could you give me 3 qualities that made him unique?” I recall my reaction as “What? After 3 children, 28 years of service, and 50+ years of marriage you want 3 words to sum up a life?” Then I wondered, what would my 3 words be? And would I be proud of them when I heard them?

As I recall, the Master Sergeant would have been proud of the memory trace he left. His 3 qualities were toughness, an affinity for hard work, and a great sense of humor.

The day after Harry Greene’s death, I was in a seminar at a DOD facility, and his name came up. He would have been proud of the trace embedded in his 3 qualities: 1. He was an advocate for his profession and his people; 2. He brought facts to the table to make decisions rather than wring his hands and get emotional (he was remembered for an oft used phrase–“Look, it’s physics”– when folks were trying to solve a difficult problem with an unworkable solution); and, 3. He was always willing to extend himself to help others. If you needed an extra set of eyes or ears to work through a problem, he’d show up despite your junior position on the wiring diagram and help.

That’s the legacy that two great Soldiers I came in contact with passed on to others. Another great Soldier once told me, “Don’t worry about building your legacy. Just do the right thing every day and it’ll take care of itself.”

What will your 3 qualities be? Will you be proud to hear them? Your folks are voting now, and you can make a difference now or wait till your interment and have your fingers crossed. I wouldn’t recommend that.