PETERSON AIR FORCE, Colo. --
What does it mean to be “Built To Last.”? Over the past ten months, many of us have been pressed to think more deeply, stretched to lead more uncomfortably and challenged to act more greatly in an effort to reach toward the standard of being “Built To Last.”
When Col. Thomas George Falzarano took command of the 21st Space Wing on July 10, 2019, his first order of business was not to change our mission or our vision, but to change our thinking. In his very first commander’s call, Col. Falzarano set one singular standard to which all things during his command would be measured – are we “Built To Last”? He would always ask, “Are we doing this in a way that will outlive us?”, “Will those that come after us say we did what was right…and not just what was right now?” As intensely as he cared about how we were each doing, he cared even more profoundly about where we individually and collectively were going. He was not about what would be “instant” but what was being “invested.” What was being “Built To Last.” Those three words have defined who we are as the 21st Space Wing. They have been a constant reminder to us that no matter what happens, the 21st Space Wing remains ready for anything because we could get through anything. Then last week, on May 12, 2020, our resolve as a wing was tested in an unimaginable way. Our leader, our commander, our heart, stopped beating.
Being “Built To Last” begins at the foundation; the strength, the security and the integrity inside us; it begins in the heart where character is constructed. The Holy Word where the colonel drew his strength and faith, tells us in Matthew 7:24-25 that “I will liken him unto a wise man, which builds his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”
Being “Built To Last” begins at the core – with character. Col. Falzarano led and lived life from his center. He led and lived honestly, transparently, selflessly and compassionately. He gave because he had it to give. And in return, he is absolutely and unapologetically adored in a way that leaders long for but few ever experience – Col. Falzarano is loved. We fell in love with him as our leader and our wingman because we knew what we meant to him. He didn’t just lead us, he loved us – each of us. He was the rock of our wing; and although we are stunned and shaken, we are not shattered. And though this storm may last a night, we know the morning joy will come; because in our hearts…at our core…we too have now been “Built To Last.”
As sure as the tide ebbs and flows, thoughts of Col. Falzarano will continue to revisit us all in crashing waves and reach the shore of each of our souls because he was good to us, good with us, and good for us. Without argument, he was a great officer, a great leader, a great mentor, a great friend, a great son, a great brother, a great father, and a great husband…but most importantly, he was a great man. And like that tide, he will never be a shallow memory but an enduring influence and an endeavoring force that will continue to move us towards greater-ness. A ripple that will resonate beyond our horizon; only to return, surging and sweeping at the right time, settling and soothing at the right time. He changed us like the sands – each that was blessed to spend even a moment, a minute, or if as fortunate as me, many with a man that made us better because he was better, and stronger because he was stronger; never leaving anything or anyone the way it was found, but rather leaving so much more behind for what lay ahead – building up everything he touched higher than it was and higher than we were, so we could all be “Built To Last.”
Since last Tuesday, I have found myself grieving on multiple occasions. I realize my heart is heavier because I can begin to sense the weight of his. A heart only the best of us are given because of how much it has to hold. We should all want to be a man after his heart…big and bold, and always beating and breaking for others. I want you to know it is okay to cry – I certainly have cried. I believe it is okay to ask “Why?” – even though my own faith tells me all things work intentionally together for the greater good, I certainly don’t understand or pretend this to feel fair (…how can this be fair?). You may have cried already, more tears may be on the way, or you may never cry, and all of that is okay too. Months from now, you may see something that reminds you of “Our Knight” and find yourself overcome and overwhelmed with emotion – give yourself that moment. We have ALL lost. We are ALL in pain. You are not alone as each of us are only beginning to realize the magnitude of how much he meant to everyone else.
In some way, big or small, he touched all of our lives.…the cashier at the commissary, the area dental lab technician, the defender at our gate, the civil engineer beautifying our base, the space operator longing to serve under his command again in a new service, the captain seeing exactly the kind of commander he or she wants to be one day… the first responders that did everything they could and everything right. We honor his life in our grieving – and we honor him when we help others in theirs. And while the waves will hit us all differently and at different times, two constants will remain as they always have, and as Col. Falzarano always was; WE are here for you – and YOU were “Built To Last.”
While many of us longed for him to lead us into a new frontier, his Heavenly Commander cut a different set of orders and has promoted him to a much higher calling. His heart had become too big for what we could ever have him do – that work, that lasting legacy, now falls to each of us. He has empowered us all to the task of taking care of each other the way he did. He is not gone, he is simply deployed. He has moved on from commanding our wing to having wings, and is now assigned to the highest command, where he will, without a doubt, be “Built To Last…Eternally.”