Excerpted from "9 Rules of Engagement" by Harris Faulkner. Copyright 2018 by Harris Faulkner. Published with permission from Harper and HarperCollins Publishers.
When I was a little girl, my father, who was a high-ranking officer, pilot, and an avionics specialist in the United States military, would hoist me up onto the elevator -- the flight control surface located at the tail of his airplane. From up there I could get a glimpse of the world as he saw it. Always eager for an even better view, I wanted time in the cockpit too. That required special permission, which wasn’t often granted, but my dad would share his perspective with me in other ways. We’d have enlightening conversations every opportunity we could get. We’d discuss life and the military values he had learned to apply to its many challenges.
Today, as a breaking news anchor, I sometimes feel as if I’m back on the elevator of that plane, looking at the world and events as they unfold around me. I’ve assumed some of the role my father played, trying to convey the details, importance, and meaning of these events to my viewers. From where I sit now, I see people strained by the rapid rate of social change. Technology has made our lives both more efficient and more demanding. I see people squeezed by the shifting economies, not only by disappearing jobs, but by disappearing industries. I see people’s morals and values being tested too. I also see that many have fallen out of meaningful dialogue with people of differing viewpoints.
In this climate, I find myself returning to the touchstones of my youth, realizing more clearly just how lucky I was to grow up as the daughter of a lieutenant colonel. Because the military exists to deal with challenging situations, so much of what they teach our troops about achieving success in trying times applies to us civilians trying to succeed in these times. I may not have served myself, but I grew up witnessing service, and it was perhaps my most foundational experience.
For a little background, I’m what’s called a brat in military circles. It’s an endearing term used to describe the children of officers and is actually an acronym for Born Raised And Transferred, which describes my early days perfectly. My mother gave birth to me at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. A short while later we were living in Stuttgart, Germany. We relocated several more times after that to various cities and military outposts before I finally ventured to college in Santa Barbara, California. Being given the honorary rank of brat is the armed services’ way of saying thank you to us kids for having grit too. They understand that when one member of a family joins the military, the whole family bears the weight of their service. We sacrifice time with that parent while they are deployed; we move wherever our loved one is needed; we uproot our lives; we leave our friends behind; and we start all over again with a supportive and positive attitude because it helps our loved one do his or her job effectively and return home to us safely. We are also expected to have much of the same discipline as our commissioned parent has, because we are considered a reflection of their ability to lead.
Although the connotation of the word brat, as it’s used by the general public, isn’t flattering, I think I was “spoiled” in the best of ways. I got to travel to some pretty awesome places, learn other people’s customs, and see what works in their world differently than in ours. I also got to witness our troops returning from battles won and lost, and to hear some of the thinking that led to victory and some of the thinking that ultimately helped formulate better strategies from the lessons of defeat.
I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that I kept a diary—actually, quite a number of them over the years. The budding journalist in me was always listening, observing, and documenting the experience. There was so much to take in. Just hearing about how my dad and other military personnel approached challenges when we were in the midst of war, and later learning how we maintained peace during the time when my father worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, became the basis of my own views about success and how to attain it.
The US military is known the world over for its advanced technology as well as the prowess, skill, and dedication of its service members. When you grow up in the company of its leaders, as I did, you understand that this greatness is something that is cultivated. In other words, greatness is taught, and as such, we can all learn to be as accomplished in our own lives and fields of pursuit as our country’s troops are.
And that really is the purpose of this book. The desire to excel is a very real part of human nature and some would argue that it is inherent in the American makeup. People in this country have always had a yearning to be great and we always will. A host of important issues in our society will continue to be hotly debated and I want to be right at the forefront covering them. Some issues may even remain undecided for a while, but in the meantime, we can at least take charge of our individual paths to success.
To do so, we can draw upon the best resources around us for guidance. In my case, that guidance lies in my diaries—all the copious notes I took over the years observing how the military repeatedly overcomes challenges and achieves its goals.
In those journals, I’ve kept lessons from conversations with my dad, events in my own life and in the world at large. And these lessons weren’t just learned from clear-cut victory. My father and the US military have had their fair share of trials and tribulations. My dad did two tours of duty in Vietnam. That was a war where we as a nation really had to stop and reassess our approach and what winning in that context even meant. As a result of those tough times, whole pages of my journal were filled with reflections about character and purpose.
When I frequently revisited those notes as a teen and twentysomething, I picked up recurring themes. Basic tenets started to emerge. I adapted some and applied them to my life. I was amazed at the outcome. I continued to make them my own—to make them relevant to my interactions off base as well as on. The military loves mottos, so I followed their lead. Most of these tenets lent nicely to being remembered with short, pithy sayings.Soon, I realized I had crafted some really practical and helpful rules to live by. Life continued to test and refine these rules. I’m still very connected to military friends and colleagues, but I’ve been living a civilian lifestyle for years now. And I can tell you, these rules, with their military underpinnings, still serve me well. They’re universal. They guided me through some difficult experiences, not the least of which was my mother’s passing, and a serious health crisis my father braved and fortunately rebounded from. And, of course, they’ve helped me plan a career path, seek increasingly more challenging and rewarding positions, win industry recognition and awards, and make choices that continue to enrich my marriage and family life.
When I realized how thirsty people were for similar guidance, I knew I had to share some of this thinking with more than just family and close friends. So I began a speaking tour, giving motivational talks to large public and private audiences. The experience was so rewarding for me and for those in attendance that I decided to compile the best of these rules in a book for even more people’s benefit.
When introducing these rules, a point I often make is that sometimes it just takes being a living example of what you firmly believe in to change others’ hearts and minds on a subject. If we wish for America to enjoy even greater glory than ever before, then we ourselves must strive to be the best individuals we can be. As the adage goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Perhaps the end to the divide that we are experiencing will come when we each strive to be our personal best.
What I believe makes this book even more useful are the additional insights offered by a variety of people who have served or have closely supported those who’ve served in the military. They include military spouse Paola Harrell (the widow of Major General Ernest James Harrell); Republican congresswoman and retired US Air Force Colonel Martha McSally; Democratic congresswoman and current major in the Hawaii Army National Guard Tulsi Gabbard; and the retired and much esteemed four-star general Jack Keane.
Just as the best reporting digs far beneath the headlines, the best advice comes from delving deep into the experiences that inspired it. Among the many truths I believe you’ll discover in my rules, my father’s stories, and these contributors’ reflections is that the drive to succeed, when supported by powerful principles, has the potential to help people attain a better life, protect their quality of life, and even save lives.
I wrote this book as a salute to all of our troops—past, present, and future -- and to their families, my own especially. I intend it as a salute to you readers as well. Many of you are also my viewers, and I suspect you picked this book up because you are looking to be the best person and citizen you can be. I hope these collective words help you achieve that goal. I sincerely wish you the success you seek and deserve.