Medal of Honor Recipient's 3 Secrets to Success

President Donald J. Trump hosts the Medal of Honor ceremony for former U.S. Army Spc. 5 James C McCloughan at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 31, 2017 (Photo by U.S. Army photo by Eboni Everson-Myart).

Medal of Honor recipient Jim McCloughan risked his life more times than his men can recall.

Under fire and wounded, he refused to give up. His actions as an Army medic during the ferocious Battle of Nui Yon Hill in 1969 saved many men. But his heroism didn't end when he finished his service and took off his uniform.

After the war, McCloughan didn't dwell on his battle experiences. Instead, he used them as a force for good, to give back to students and colleagues to inspire them to be their best.

McCloughan returned to his hometown of South Haven, Michigan, and taught sociology and coached until his retirement in 2008. He earned the Michigan Education Association's 40 years of Service Award. He also earned the Wolverine Conference Distinguished Service Award for 38 years of coaching football and baseball, in addition to 22 years of coaching wrestling.

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The aftermath of war leaves many wounds, but some soldiers, like McCloughan, take those traumatic experiences and are able to transform them in positive ways. It's what authors Ken Falke and Josh Goldberg call "post-traumatic growth" in their groundbreaking book, "Struggle Well," which details how to thrive in the aftermath of trauma.

But just how did he turn those experiences into a positive and rewarding life? McCloughan said it was primarily these three things that helped him:

1. Servant Leadership

In the military, it's widely known that you attend to the needs of others before your own and that leaders carry their own packs and stand shoulder to shoulder with the soldiers they serve. McCloughan demonstrated this in his classrooms by telling students that they were also teachers -- to each other and to him.

McCloughan's success as a teacher was rooted in his ability to meet people where they were; to discern what their individual needs and struggles were; and to empathize and help them own the solution to their problems. Those are the marks of a great leader, someone who is able to help others help themselves.

His collaborative teaching approach was born out of his combat experiences. He learned early on that good leaders are excellent active listeners, working together as a team for a common purpose.

2. A Sense of Humor

It's no secret that a sense of humor and the ability to see the upside even in times of loss builds resilience and helps to overcome challenges. Student wrestler James Brack recalled that, whenever he or teammates were losing, McCloughan would often say something funny, such as, "At least they're not shooting at us." It would always get a laugh, help them shake off the loss, and look for ways to improve and win in the next match.

McCloughan was right: Humor does inspire. According to Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker and lecturer Naomi Bagdonas' interview with, leaders who utilize humor at their own expense, not others', are able to engage employees and build resilient cultures.

3. See the Forest Through the Trees

McCloughan learned in battle to triage the needs of his men. This prioritization made him flexible enough to easily see both the big picture (the forest) while tending to the details (the trees) of braving fire to retrieve men and save their lives.

This attention to detail, focus and discipline served him well as a coach and teacher, enabling him to teach the power of long-term strategy by focusing on short-term goals, each building on the next.

McCloughan said that being able to stay calm when adrenaline is pumping and the odds are against you helped teach his students to set realistic goals to accomplish any dream.

His Army awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Good Conduct Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, the Army Valorous Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with "60" Device, the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palms and one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Medical Badge, and the M16 Expert Rifle Badge.

He currently lives in South Haven, Michigan, with his wife Chérie.

-- Sean Mclain Brown can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @seanmclainbrown.

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