Celebrating Heroes

A Marine in Perpetual Motion: Always Striving for Greater Strides

Coping with astronomical, unrelenting rigors as a US Marine captain commanding over 1000 troops and overseeing approximately 140 drill instructors is undeniably demanding while rife with extraordinary responsibility.

An array of Captain Chris Bolender’s achievements spanning a 16-year military career easily raise 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, Captain Bolender delineated that he “deployed as an Electronic Warfare Module Supervisor aboard the USS Harry S. Truman during Operation Southern Watch Persian Gulf 2000-2001.”

Captain 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, Captain Bolender “produced and directed the largest South Korean—US 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 non-menial factor of holding the monumental responsibility for roughly $100 million in military assets is enough to get me thinking about running. Whereas my sprint is to the keyboard, retired United States Marine Corps Captain Chris Bolender laces up his sneakers and hits the ground running 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, Captain Bolender “was a USMC Weapons and Tactics Instructor, a USMC Senior Air Director, Senior Traffic Director, and Senior Identification Director (identify 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 Captain Bolender, I heard a man whose battle-ground experiences and conviction to military duty transcend civilian life. And the juxtaposition of the two polar lifestyles rests upon happy mediums…such as running. Seems the forward-motion mindset never waned, a wonderful tenet whether on the battlefield or the runner’s course.

Whereas my purpose is to write engaging and thought-provoking stories, Captain Chris Bolender’s motivation is one of pure heart-pumping vigor, of ultra-clarity, of salvation, and of balanced psyche.

Whereas my purpose is to write engaging and thought-provoking stories, Captain Chris Bolender’s motivation is one of pure heart-pumping vigor, of ultra-clarity, of salvation, and of balanced psyche. An unfailingly avid runner, Bolander 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.

Retired USMC Captain Chris Bolender runs daily, often incorporating the theme of whatever National Day happens to be celebrated on any calendar day. Here, Bolender runs while recognizing National Memory Day, holding a photo of himself during his first military career in the US Navy. (Credit: Facebook/Little Runs Big World)

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). 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 which turned into a book he titled “Little Runs, Big World: A Marine’s Path to Peace” (Amazon) endorsed by ultra-marathoner and NY Times bestselling 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Karnazes.

Being the dignified and noble leader he is, Bolender reciprocated his respects to Mr. Karnazes, saying, “Dean is THE ULTRAMARATHONER and NY Times bestselling 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.”

Retired USMC Captain Chris Bolender’s journey is depicted in his book, “Little Runs, Big World: A Marine’s Path to Peace” in which he ascribed how running delivered balance during a rigorous military career and thereafter. (Credit: Chris Bolender)

Retired USMC Captain Chris Bolender’s journey is depicted in his book, “Little Runs, Big World: A Marine’s Path to Peace” in which he ascribed how running delivered balance during a rigorous military career and thereafter. (Credit: Chris Bolender)The “engaging, spirited and stirring” author Mr. Karnazes endorsed had completed his book in nine months. I admit: it is inspiring to hear Bolender’s story, about his legacy, and how he endured the duality of a military career while writing 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 shoulder shelf, Capt. Bolender is a man of dutiful character who has endeavored things most only read about and dream of. Despite my admiration for his character, Forrest Gump didn’t possess the brilliance Captain 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”

Captain 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 General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, USMC General John Kelly, and USMC General Joseph Dunford, Captain 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 Captain Bolender’s point: General Mattis is our nation’s current Secretary of Defense; General Kelly is our country’s White House Chief of Staff; and General 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 Captain 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 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.

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 Captain Bolender’s career as a U.S. Marine came with much precedent. His family lineage numbered six Bolenders in the Marine Corp, making him number seven. Definitely a family who run the torch for the successive passing.

Nevertheless, the machinations of being a United States Marine required a dynamic to keep it all in perspective. Captain 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 awhile for the proverbial “adrenaline dump” to transpire.

When Captain 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 breath, 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/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 documents 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/death responsibility?

Retired USMC Captain Chris Bolender striding across the finish line at a marathon in Okinawa, Japan. (Credit: Chris Bolender)

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 sure-fire way to “delouse my hectic mind.”

Speaking with Bolender, I was stoked by his verve for running. Conversely, his thirst for placing his feet one 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 Captain 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 Captain 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.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. 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 researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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