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This is the true story of Charlie Plumb.

Charlie grew up as a farm kid from Kansas with dreams of becoming a pilot. After graduating from the Naval Academy and completing his training, he became a part of the program which is now known as “TOP GUN.”

During the course of his career he flew 74 successful combat missions over North Vietnam.

Charlie was 5 days away from the end of his tour when he took off on his 75th mission…it didn’t go as planned.

He was shot down somewhere over Hanoi and was taken prisoner and tortured. He spent the next 2,103 days of his life (around 6 years) in a cell that measured 8 feet x 8 feet.

Charlie survived and continued flying for a few more years before retiring.

One day he and his wife were sitting at a restaurant and a man from another table came over and said, “You’re Plumb!” You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprised and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!”

Plumb assured him, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.:

That night plumb couldn’t sleep he kept thinking about that man. Plumb says, “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat, a bib in the back and bell-bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or anything, because, you see, I was a fighter pilot, and he was just a sailor.”

As Charlie likes to ask, “who is packing your parachute?”

He uses the metaphor both literally and figuratively because we need many different types of parachutes. Charlie needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute.

Who are the people in your organization and your life who help you build your business, make you successful, or just help you get through your day? Who is encouraging you, challenging you, and getting your back when things are tough?

Do you recognize these people and tell them you appreciate them?

Sometimes it’s the small acts and actions of others that can profoundly shape and alter your life, hopefully for the better.

For me, it was a cup of coffee. I know, sounds weird right? But I actually wrote up my story in a recent LinkedIn article called, How 15 Years Ago a Cup of Coffee Changed My Life.”

We all have our own stories of what shaped us, pushed us, and got us to where we are today, what’s yours?

And remember, recognize those around you because you never know who might be packing your parachute!

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