Distinguished Marine Is Still Teaching Lessons About Service
Capt. Chris Bolender has transferred 'battleground experiences, conviction to military duty' to civilian life in awesome way
Coping with astronomical, unrelenting rigors as a U.S. Marine captain commanding over 1,000 troops and overseeing approximately 140 drill instructors is undeniably demanding — while rife with extraordinary responsibility.
An array of Capt. Chris Bolender’s achievements spanning a 16-year military career easily raises the eyebrow in admiring fashion: His final duty as the executive officer of 1st Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, pinnacled his command experience responsibility for 1,000 recruits and 140 drill instructors.
That was preceded by having served in combat zones in two wars.
Since he tells it with deserved distinction, Capt. Bolender (pictured on this page) delineated that he “deployed as an Electronic Warfare Module Supervisor aboard the USS Harry S. Truman during Operation Southern Watch Persian Gulf, 2000-2001.”
Capt. Bolender also served as “the senior tactical air traffic director at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, 2010; and as ballistic missile defense detachment commander during three North Korea missile crises (2012-2013).”
Taking his breadth of increasing leadership abilities and command capacities, Capt. Bolender “produced and directed the largest South Korean-U.S. joint air defense exercise in 2014.” In 2012-2013, Capt. Bolender filled the extraordinary role as “a company commander in charge of 107 motivated Marines at the Tactical Air Operations Center (TAOC)/Marine Air Control Squadron 4, Camp Futenma, Okinawa, Japan.”
The nonmenial factor of holding the monumental responsibility for roughly $100 million in military assets is enough to get this writer thinking about running. Whereas my sprint is to the keyboard, retired United States Marine Corps Capt. Chris Bolender laces up his sneakers and hits the ground running, a place where he achieves focus, purpose and resolve. After all, it is commendable for a man to buck self-sacrifice stemming from the insidious trade-off often encountered in service to nation.
Chronicled in his LinkedIn profile, Capt. Bolender “was a USMC weapons and tactics instructor, a USMC senior air director, senior traffic director, and senior identification director [identifying hostile and friendly aircraft and missiles] — all the highest qualifications as an air defense officer.” Clearly, Bolender is keenly concentrated in tactical maneuvering, precision planning, and forward-motion.
When I spoke with Capt. Bolender, I heard a man whose battleground experiences and conviction to military duty transcend civilian life. And the juxtaposition of the two polar lifestyles rests upon happy medium — such as running. Seems the forward-motion mindset never waned, a wonderful tenet, whether on the battlefield or on the runner’s course.
Whereas my purpose is to write engaging and thought-provoking stories, Capt. Bolender’s motivation is one of pure heart-pumping vigor, of ultra-clarity, of salvation, and of balanced psyche. An unfailingly avid runner, he keeps a daily chronicle of consecutive runs, without fail. Inspiring is a man who incorporates whatever “national day” theme into his daily running regimen, wittingly seasoning his task with some comedic marinade.
For National Cereal Day, Bolender ran with a bowl of cereal and a spoon chronicling his 1,025th consecutive run. For National Love Your Pet Day, he was accompanied by a four-legged runner, his dog (tabulated as 1,010 days of consecutive runs). We’ve gotta hand it to a guy who doesn’t miss a step and sprints to the track on the daily.
Interestingly, Bolender had no inkling of running in his younger years; yet his latter (military) life and its unceasing rigors sparked him to peddle his legs and stride for clarity while chronicling advancements. It became a passion that turned into a book he titled “Little Runs, Big World: A Marine’s Path to Peace” (Amazon) — something endorsed by ultra-marathoner and New York Times best-selling author Dean Karnazes.
“Chris Bolender writes honestly and with candor. ‘Little Runs, Big World’ reveals the realities of military service and how running became his ultimate salvation. An engaging read, spirited and stirring,” wrote Karnazes.
Being the dignified and noble leader he is, Bolender reciprocated his respects to Karnazes, saying, “Dean is THE ULTRAMARATHONER and New York Times best-selling author and world record holder for the farthest run by a human being (350 miles). Thanks for your support, Dean. You are a wonderful person and a terrific role model.”
The “engaging, spirited and stirring” author Karnazes endorsed wrote his book in nine months. I admit: It is inspiring to hear Bolender’s story of his legacy, and how he endured a duo military career and wrote a book fusing soldier/runner together — while mine is a mere mind-map.
Somewhat reminiscent of the Forrest Gump character running through the jungle several times with a wounded soldier draped around his shoulders, Bolender is a man of dutiful character who has endeavored things of which most people only read about and dream. Despite my admiration for his character, Forrest Gump didn’t possess the brilliance Capt. Bolender harnessed. But both have an impassioned drive to run, run, and run some more, an unadulterated sign of a leader among men aiming high.
Selfless leadership. Capt. Bolender writes about and discusses military leadership and how armed forces indoctrinations offer tremendous dividends in terms of orchestrating sound government and/or business principles. Referring to USMC Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, USMC Gen. John Kelly, and USMC Gen. Joseph Dunford, Capt. Bolender engenders the “selfless leadership” concept so enriching in the Corps.
As Bolender describes in his December 2017 LinkedIn article “Why Marines in High Leadership Positions Eat Last,” the crux of stewarding over countless lives in deeply disciplined factions is placing soldiers before self.
Exemplifying Bolender’s point: Gen. Mattis is our nation’s current secretary of defense; Gen. Kelly is our country’s White House chief of staff; and Gen. Dunford is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These leaders epitomize greatness and a grit for getting matters accomplished. However, none can accomplish such a plateau without first leading scores of Marines on often-treacherous terrain — and home again.
So, too, is a natural leader burdened with the foreknowledge that any of his charges may not return — and the aftermath of this truth.
While I interviewed Capt. Bolender, his octave rose when he uttered any of these three icons’ names. My conscience rose when I tacitly lumped him in with them, punctuated by the ingrained reminder told to him during service and thereafter: “You will always be a Marine, Captain!”
I got the feeling that had I never heard Bolender’s tone and only got to witness his mannerisms, his nobility, his method of carrying himself — that I’d somehow know he is and will always be a Marine.
Moreover, punctuations to Capt. Bolender’s career as a U.S. Marine came with much precedent. His family lineage numbered six Bolenders in the Marine Corps, making him number seven. Definitely a family who run the torch for the successive passing.
Here is a perpetual motion-man whose recognition of an outlet to diffuse tension and dissipate stress was and is a must, especially to remain in optimal control.
Nevertheless, the machinations of being a United States Marine required a dynamic to keep it all in perspective. Bolender explained how his mind seldom rests, how it is most often analyzing things, how being in his Marine capacity compelled chronic forward momentum. As a retired policeman, I related how I often felt copious amounts of adrenaline from police pursuits and how it took a while for the proverbial “adrenaline dump” to transpire.
When Capt. Bolender informed me it was routine and orthodox to oversee tactical air traffic responsibilities for 450 flying missions per day, I muttered in response, “Dare ya’ to breathe, huh?”
His response was: “There was never a time when we weren’t super-busy flying missions,” followed by a definitive exhalation. Here is a perpetual-motion man whose recognition of an outlet to diffuse tension and dissipate stress was and is a must, especially necessary to remain in optimal control. He ran with the notion.
“Little Runs, Big World.” Memoirs of running around the globe document the life-filling coping skills born of chronic stress and military demands for utter discipline — leaving a granule of room for error. But that is nothing more than Marine Corps mindset and the military way, projecting an almost imperceptible sarcasm that there is no room for mistakes. Or, as any novice or avid runner may put it: “no missteps.”
Who can derive any sense of comfort from that overt undercurrent while covertly harboring the angst born of being — a human, one especially disposed to a massive vat of life and death responsibility?
In and of itself, it is an inarguable strength for a leader to do yet something more, to strive for greater strides.
If you guessed running is an absolute way of life for Bolender, you are correct. So much so that he is now coursing with ideas and sprinting his fingers across the keypad as one of the latest among the OpsLens cadre of contributors, exemplifying experience-driven commentary right down to the wire and indeed to the letter.
Perhaps the best finish line for any runner is knowing the last finish line wasn’t really the last, and that there is always more ground to cover, more corners to turn, and even more tape to breach so as to sprint toward even more opportunities. As Bolender put it in an article he wrote in 2017, running is a surefire way to “delouse my hectic mind.”
Speaking with Bolender, I was stoked by his verve for running. Conversely, his thirst for placing one foot before the before the other in cyclic fashion equates to physical prowess and a robust mindset.
As a screenplay writer, his ideas are captivating. He shared some of his ideas with me but, respectfully, it is best he tell the storylines without a spoiler from me (honor among men, you could say). I appreciate Bolender’s courageous candor regarding striking a balance between strengths and weaknesses. I admire his tenacious track records. I respect that he refused to allow the military machinations to dwindle him, instead launching self-discovery and succeeding at it.
How does Capt. Bolender put his best foot forward? “Officers serve their enlisted because they are the ones who are at the tip of the spear on each mission; they provide the guidance that helps them lead,” wrote Capt. Bolender.
As an army of one finalizing grad school, Bolender evinces superb leadership qualities and the skills derived from being Semper Fi. Now, you can read all about it.
Stephen Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a senior OpsLens contributor, a researcher and a writer. This article from OpsLens is used with permission.
(photo credit, homepage and article images from Chris Bolender’s Facebook)