Recently, I traveled south for a family event and looked back towards the city as I usually find myself doing. There’s something about Chicago that takes my breath away every time; maybe it’s the architecture, Midwest tradition, and progressive culture all blended together. Regardless- as I looked upon the shrinking city skyline, something seemed out of place that I couldn’t quite place. After looking more intently and searching for the missing answer, it finally dawned on me what was amiss. From the moment I came to Chicago in 2015, the Willis [formerly Sears] Tower was always on the right as I looked south upon the city skyline. Only this time, as I traveled south and looked back upon the city, the Willis Tower being on the left jarred my sense of the city I thought I knew…
While some may scoff at this realization as something minor or trivial, to me it instantly reminded me of a key lesson I learned very early on in my military training that cemented a huge part of the person I am today. The perspectives we all have are deeply important and valid, and looking north upon the city reminded me the importance of viewing the world from varying standpoints.
* * * * *
The breeze through the woods in Quantico, Virginia cooled the sweat-drenched Marine officers-in-training on a humid summer night. The watches on each Marine’s wrist read slightly after 2am, and they had just finished a several hour foot patrol through the northern Virginia military training area searching for an “enemy force” that was assuredly not awake. Eager for rest, the Lieutenants huddled under a camouflaged poncho, and mapped out the rest plan on a small waterproof notebook lit red by the army flashlight held above.
80 minutes later…..
“STAND TO STAND TO!!!!!!”
“CONTACT FRONT. PLATOON SIZE. 50 YARDS AND CLOSING”
The weary Marine Lieutenants scrambled awake to the alert from their peer sentry on guard. Reflective of this units’ naivety, Marines wasted valuable time as they scrambled around figuring out on the fly what positions to assume, instead of returning accurate and decisive fire to repel the attacking force. Confused seconds turned into fateful minutes, as the attacking force overwhelmed the young Marine officers and won the simulated battle. In that moment, on a small isolated hill in the dead of night, the leader of the young Marine officers commanded the silence by saying, “ENDEX- After action debrief here in 5.”
Dejected and exhausted, the officers gathered together at that very point one minute later so as not to anger their officer instructor further. Captain S was an Iraq War veteran who led his Marines through months of heavy fighting in some of the most kinetic areas of the country. He epitomized the ideal officer instructor: someone who had seen battle and could properly train the next generation. He was a soft spoken individual who said more with his 6’3 NFL linebacker-built frame than he ever did with his mouth, and he towered over the Lieutenants in silence as they prepared for his worst.
“You all failed to turn the map around,” he stated simply. “You all failed to turn the map around, anticipate, and plan properly. The result of this inaction is that you are all now defeated, and they will live on. Sgt A [ leader of the attackers] what debrief points do you have?”
Sgt A emerged from behind Captain S, camouflaged with face paint and dirtied from head to toe. Assuming position in front of the Marine officers, he calmly told them what he saw. “We were following you all during your foot patrol at a distance. Once you arrived at your tentative patrol base at approx 0200, we assessed that you began an active rest plan due to the limited presence of security and lack of active patrols. At approximately 0330, we identified a gap in your defense on this side [pointing to a side of the hill they were all standing on], and launched a platoon sized attack which culminated here.”
As Sgt A spoke, every Marine officer was awestruck by the impeccable professionalism of the Marine that was debriefing them. His skillful use of the language they were learning, coupled with his tact to not brow-beat the Marine officers who stood before him humiliated by their tactical mistakes, made him immediately and universally respected. The officers hung on every word he said, and the message came across loud and clear- Sgt A’s platoon attacked successfully because they carefully considered what the officers were thinking, feeling, and doing.
“Thank you Sgt A,” whispered Capt S. “Carry on with your plan of the day.”
“Roger that Sir,” replied Sgt A, as he escaped into the night with his platoon of enlisted instructors.
Capt S again turned toward our crestfallen group, and addressed us that early morning for one final time. “Failure to turn the map around equates to a critical failure of fully understanding the problem. When we say ‘turning the map around,’ we literally mean assuming the perspective of others. Doing so allows you to see your own weaknesses and assumptions, while also broadening your insights. To truly win this fight we are in now [Iraq/Afghanistan], we must fully appreciate the way the map looks from the other side.”
As my mind transitioned back from the Quantico highlands to the Chicago skyline, my thoughts centered on OWLS and our kids. So many of our kids grow up seeing the Willis Tower on the left, which has far more reaching effects than just their view of the city. The simplest of tasks made harder through the environments that surround their daily lives. And so many still don’t quite understand the work we are doing to expand our programming to provide the best options for our predominantly at-risk youth.
Many families across Chicago, like me, view the city skyline from the northern vantage and see ample lacrosse opportunities all around them, and a thriving lacrosse culture. They sadly don’t see the difficulties our players trudge through just to throw a ball around amongst friends. They can’t see the obstacles our players overcome to have lacrosse gear they call their own. And finally, through no fault of their own, they certainly haven’t seen the map of Chicago lacrosse turned upside down.
I hope that my story above fundamentally challenges how we view the state of lacrosse in Chicago, and more importantly, energizes us all to turn the map around as we approach growth in the game of lacrosse. OWLS seeks to create opportunities for growth and development in our players through scholarship, service, and lacrosse. We are hoping that our continued efforts in expanding lacrosse in the most at-risk areas of Chicago will not only force people to see the map from our direction, but will fundamentally change the way the map is drawn.
Taylor Harris currently serves as the League Director and Director of Coaches/Officials Training for OWLS. Prior to joining OWLS, Taylor worked on the nationally recognized collegiate lacrosse staffs at Northwestern University (women) and Tufts University (men). Taylor also served six years in the United States Marine Corps as both an intelligence officer and scout sniper platoon commander. In those six years he deployed three times, once to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). He played collegiately at the United States Naval Academy from 2003-2006, and is originally from Clifton, Virginia. Taylor holds a Master’s in Education in Physical Education and Coaching from Boston University, and currently teaches at a Noble Network charter school in Lincoln Park, Chicago.