Army dad, daughter talk about what it takes to be leader
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media October 10, 2013 1:40PM
Updated: November 12, 2013 6:13AM
ELGIN — When U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Cline was stationed in Afghanistan, teaching local fighters, he carried a few mementos with him.
Those included a picture of his wife, two daughters, and the dog he bought to keep his family company while he was gone.
John Cline, 41, and his daughter, Carson, 17, spoke this week to juniors in the AP English classes at Elgin and Larkin high schools.
The two are based out of Frankfort, Ky., and were in Elgin as a favor to one of Carson’s former soccer coaches in Kentucky, Alisha Wildermuth. She is a secondary literacy coordinator for Elgin School District U46.
All high school juniors in School District U46 are asked to read the book “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien — the book that is the centerpiece for The Big Read program in the Northern Fox Valley, said Jackie Johnson, secondary literacy coordinator for the district.
That is why they wanted to bring a current serviceman to Elgin — to help connect students to the lives of those serving in combat.
Carson started on the stage, performing a speech she had written and memorized for a oral communications class.
She tells one of her father’s stories of being on a mountain in Afghanistan, waking up to find himself and his trainees covered in ice and snow. They had to dig holes to hunker down in — feeling after a time like “Stanley from the movie ‘Holes,’ ” Carson said.
That speech got her invited to a national festival last year.
She had to relearn and memorize the speech over the weekend — the two were a last-minute substitution when the original speaker was unable to come to Elgin, Johnson said.
There were other things that John Cline carried with him in Afghanistan, such as a flashlight.
“You haven’t seen dark until you see dark in a Third World country,” he said. It was so dark that the night-vision goggles didn’t work very well, he said.
Other things he brought with him — extra socks and underwear, and an extra uniform — didn’t make it up the mountain during one of the group’s first training missions, according to John Cline.
He, his assistant, translator and the 160 trainees had climbed a 13,000-foot mountain and were supposed to be there for just two or three days.
But they quickly came under enemy bombardment and ended up being stuck on that mountain for 23 days, John Cline said. The first helicopter that came to evacuate the group was shot down, and it and its occupants crashed on that mountain.
By the time they were able to get out, he said, his uniform was practically crumbling off of his skin.
What John Cline has learned as a leader is that it doesn’t necessarily come naturally, nor is it something that everyone can learn.
He has learned that there are traits which come with leadership — such as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage, Cline said.
He also has learned to hang onto and tell the stories from Afghanistan, because it is the stories of our lives that can tell when you’ve had good, learning experiences, John Cline said.
For some students, the talk was more than just getting out of class for an hour.
“It was inspiring,” said Jerry Hernandez, 16.
The stories of what Cline and his men did to survive were eye-opening for him, Hernandez said. “They trained and stayed mentally strong” during their 23 days on the mountain. “These were not just any kind of people.”