Packing Parachutes

Captain Charlie Plumb graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and went on to fly the F-4 Phantom jet on 74 successful combat missions over Vietnam. On his 75th mission, with only five days before he was to return home, Plumb was shot down, captured, tortured, and imprisoned in an 8-foot x 8-foot cell. He spent the next 2,103 days as a Prisoner of War in communist war prisons.

During his nearly six years of captivity, Charlie Plumb distinguished himself among his fellow prisoners as a professional in underground communications and served for two of those years as the Chaplain in his camp.

He tells the following story of sitting in a restaurant in Kansas City. A man about two tables away kept looking at him.  A few minutes into their meal, the man stood up and walked over to the Plumb’s table, looked down at him, pointed his finger and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.”

He looked up and said, “Yes sir, I’m Captain Plumb.”  The man said, “You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You were on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years as a prisoner of war.”  Plumb said, “How in the world did you know all that?”  He replied, “Because, I packed your parachute.”

Speechless, Plumb staggered to his feet and held out a very grateful hand of thanks. This guy came up with just the proper words. He grabbed his hand and pumped his arm saying, “I guess it worked.”

“Yes sir, indeed it did”, he said, “and I must tell you I’ve said a lot of prayers of thanks for your nimble fingers, but I never thought I’d have the opportunity to express my gratitude in person.”

Plumb didn’t get much sleep that night.  He kept thinking about that man. He kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back and bell bottom trousers. He wondered how many times he might have passed him on board the Kitty Hawk. He wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said “good morning”, “how are you”, or anything because, you see, Plumb was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.

How many hours did that sailor spend on that long wooden table in the bowels of that ship weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of those chutes?

Who makes your life valuable because they do something that makes it work?  It may be person who changes your oil, the server at your favorite restaurant, the barista at your morning coffee spot, the security guard at work, the person who cares for your children . . . for Captain Plumb, it was a parachute packer.

Often the jobs that are not celebrated are the jobs that are most critical.

Here are a few ways to honor those who help.

Notice The Extra Milers.

Hard work has its own reward, but your contribution is appreciated when a valued colleague takes notice.  It can be discouraging to have hard work undervalued. Don’t say, “It’s not that hard,” when the work’s hard.  Make sure your “attaboy” and “well done” is well timed, well placed and well meaning.  Appreciate the craftsman, as well as the craft.

Find Time To Encourage.

Daniel Pink, in “When” reminds us, “Toward the end of hard work, notice how far you’ve come. At the beginning of hard work, notice how far you have come.” Don’t wait until the job is done.  Look toward the goal line, say we are almost there and push to the finish.  A wise man once said, “The right word spoken at the right time is as beautiful as gold apples in a silver bowl.” (King Solomon, Proverbs 25:11 NCV).  Find the right words at the right time.

Recognize The WINS.

Take a few moments and identify a WIN (What’s Important Now).  A pat on the back makes hard work enjoyable. Appreciate the attainment . . . “You worked really hard to reach this week’s goal.”  A pat on the back will keep people from sitting on their backside.

Be Intentional, Not Intimidating

Show up to notice progress and offer help.  Offering help means discussing options and working toward creative solutions when someone’s stuck.

Notice People Over Performance

Committed people are committed to their tasks.  The right people get the job done right. Lance Witt, in High Impact Teams, writes, “Doing focuses on performance; developing focuses on people.”  Good people want to work with good people.

Honor The “Glass Is Full” Worker

Too many people see the burden over the blessing.  They are the ones who are “punching the clock”.  “Half-glass” people see what they don’t have . . . “Full-Glass” people see what they have.  Half-glassers discourage . . . Full-glassers encourage.  Who are the special people in your life providing you the encouragement needed when the chips are down?  Perhaps it’s time right now to give those people a call and thank them for packing your chute.

The next time you pull the proverbial “rip cord” and your parachute works . . . remember who packed it.  I’m sure, just like you, they will be glad it worked.

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