There Are Pretenders And Contenders: Which One Are You?

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I recently had the privilege to attend my Aviation Officer Candidate School reunion a few weeks ago. Aviation Officer Candidate School was the Navy’s gateway from a civilian to becoming a commissioned Officer and Aviator.  In fact, just outside the main academic building, hung a wood sign with gold lettering that read, “Through These Doors Walk The Future of Naval Aviation.”

It was an extremely intense 4 months of breaking you down and building you up as a leader and it was run by the best of the best Marine Corps Drill Instructors.  The movie “Officer and a Gentleman” was based loosely on this school.  This program ran from 1947 to 1994.  Unfortunately this program is no longer in existence and the reunion was the first reunion ever held.  We had over 300 graduates and Drill Instructors from class 1961 to 1994 attend the event.

My class was 02-88 and unfortunately my drill instructor couldn’t make the event.   However, my Chief Drill Instructor, Master Gunnery Sergeant D. W. Bearup USMC, did attend.  It was extremely gratifying seeing him, now in his 70’s, and getting a chance to talk with him.  I made sure to let him know how much of an impact he had on my life.  He spoke to all of us with tears in his eyes, how this tour of duty from his entire career in the Marine Corps was his most rewarding.  In fact, EVERY drill instructor in attendance felt the same way!  All 300 of us graduates agreed that this short 4 months of our lives changed all of us forever!

So what does this all have to do with the title “There are Pretenders and Contenders: Which one are you?” Well upon graduation and becoming commissioned as an officer (if you made it, as attrition was very high) our Chief Drill Instructor, Master Gunnery Sargent D.W. Bearup USMC gave each of us a piece of paper that he had written to each of us and it read;

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Ensign Kaiser                15 January 1988
        You can divide Naval Officers into two classes:  Pretenders and Contenders.  The Pretenders are the ones who never sacrifice themselves. They will never understand the meaning of “total dedication”, therefore they will never taste the glory.  The Contenders are the ones who demand of themselves the absolute maximum limit and are willing to pay that price.  They will be able to catch the glory.  Life is that way.  There are Pretenders and there are Contenders.  The question is…Which one are you?
                                             D.W. Bearup
                                             Master Gunnery Sergeant
                                             United States Marine Corps
                                             Chief Drill Instructor
                                             Aviation Officer Candidate School
His question has permeated my entire life and I still have the original paper framed. I have hung it on every office wall that I had.
I would like to say I was a Contender in everything that I have done in life but I can’t; However, when those storms came, whether in my marriage, work, raising my kids, and community service, I always eventually referred back to his words of wisdom. At that moment his words would hit me like a 2×4 and I took action.
It was like he was there over my shoulder and in his Drill Instructor voice saying to me, “Your a Contender, I have trained you well now get off your “xxx” and make a difference!”
So I don’t think Master Gun Bearup would mind sharing his words of wisdom with others as he was right, “Life is that way.
From left to right; 02-88 Classmate Fred Neuhart, Chief Drill Instructor-MGYST D.W. Bearup (USMC), and Dave Kaiser
There are Pretenders and there are Contenders.
The question is…Which one are you?


David Kaiser
David Kaiser
DAVE is a retired Navy Commander and current CEO and founder of H2H Dynamics, an authentic leadership training and advisory company that focuses on the essential human to human dynamics that determine successful business, team and personal performance. He served as a Naval Officer and Aviator where he flew 46 combat sorties during Desert Storm. He was one of the officers in charge of the Navy and Marine Corps elite Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training program where he was first exposed to human dynamics under extremely stressful conditions. In the corporate sector Dave was the Chief Learning Officer for a major defense contractor where he was responsible for all human performance training for the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, NATO, NASA, foreign militaries, and various Fortune 500 companies. He directly applied latest research in the fields of learning psychology, human performance, and neuroscience. Additionally Dave lead a three year research study for the United States Air Force Research Laboratory to determine the most effective training interventions to improve human performance of tactical aircrew members. During this research project he discovered the human performance tool used for NASA’s Astronaut selection for the Space Shuttle program and became one of the few people qualified to use the tool. From this research Dave co-authored two published papers at the Interservice/ Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in 2008 (Best Paper Nominee) and again in 2010.

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