Lt. Col. Dan Rooney’s life and work have been largely shaped by his days in the United States Air Force.
Rooney served through three combat tours in Iraq, logging 1,800 hours of flight time. Run down the checklist of military honors, and Rooney has achieved most of them. To this day, he remains an aggressor pilot in the 301st Fighter Squadron.
All that time training for and flying in missions has created a prism through which Rooney sees things. Rooney is a hopeful man, assured by faith and the confidence that comes from subsequent success that no one should have good reason to despair. He believes anyone can lift themselves out of the situation they’re in and, with the right philosophy, propel themselves forward.
Taking what he has learned to this point, Rooney has authored a new motivational book entitled “Fly Into the Wind: How to Harness Faith and Fearlessness On Your Ascent to Greatness.”
Rooney is best known for founding the Folds of Honor, a foundation which has raised nearly $150 million to provide scholarships for nearly 30,000 children of fallen and injured military veterans. He is singularly focused on that mission, and his appeal has drawn in the interest of individuals and corporate America alike.
Golf has played a pivotal role in Rooney’s remarkable impact through Folds of Honor. Rooney is a PGA of America professional who has forged partnerships with some of the most influential people in the sport. He created Patriot Golf Day in 2007 to raise money for Folds of Honor, with participating clubs asking a golfer to add $1 to their green fee to benefit the scholarship fund. Now there are tournaments and donation boxes and other events led by the PGA of America’s PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) non-profit foundation, which also benefits from the now-weekend-long event. Jack Nicklaus, who has become a close friend to Rooney, is chair of the event and someone Rooney counts as a “Level 3” friend, one of his irreplaceable, foundational relationships.
Our credos are defined by the events and experiences that shape us. For Rooney, one of those defining moments was a near-tragic accident while piloting an F-16 that altered his life trajectory. He became convinced that his calling was to ensure our country never forgets its debt of gratitude to military servicemembers who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the country.
“I went through a 10-year period of my life where things seemed to be falling apart more than coming together, and I learned a whole lot during that period, and I came out the other side of it a very different person,” he said. “Ten years goes very fast.”
“It’s a code of living I put together in this life-storm of things that were in my control.”
In his book, Rooney lays out the philosophy he’s discovered with military-style order and precision. Naturally, prioritization is a key part of Rooney’s philosophy. He calls the overarching message CAVU, which is an Air Force acronym meaning “ceiling and visibility unrestricted,” or the ideal conditions for flight. Rooney’s book is a quilt, weaving together military lessons and what he sees as the power of faith in God and a plan God has authored for each person.
“We’re all going to win, and we’re all going to lose. We’re going to have struggles and successes. But I contend that you should pretty much live your life the same way everyday, and that’s what I’ve put together,” Rooney said.
He breaks that down into ten lines of effort (LOE), behaviors and beliefs he employs on a daily basis and sees as crucial to reaching one’s potential. Rooney said sticking to this manifest has led him to be more process-driven than outcome-driven. If that sounds familiar, just ask a pro golfer how they approach tournament play. It’s similar. The thinking goes that if you do the right things that are in your control, then the less impact the things you can’t control will have.
Rooney is adamant that we ourselves limit our capacity, creating a constraining universe of what is or isn’t possible. It isn’t that simple of a proposition in application, but the message of believing in possibility is a resoundingly important one. We can only do what we fathom we can do.
Even if you don’t see society and the world in the same way as Rooney, and I suspect he and I differ in many ways, his message of finding fulfillment is an important one. See the world with clarity, even when the world is unclear. Be hopeful of what’s possible and not bitter about was proved impossible. Surround yourself with people who make you better and that you make better. Seek and accept help. Love profoundly. The details of how we individually might cement those beliefs are personal and not insignificant, but there are myriad and varied examples to illustrate this belief structure is powerful.
“This is the best I’ve got at age 47,” Rooney said, wisely admitting this book would look somewhat different if he wrote it well into the future.
He holds up examples of people he’s met and learned from to this point, including Nicklaus and broadcaster David Feherty, as well people he’s studied from afar. He keeps looking. It’s up to the wind where Rooney will next find inspiration.
However, right now, the breeze has carried him back to where he started.
American Dunes marks the rebirth of the Michigan golf course where Rooney got his start with Folds of Honor. His father and Jack Nicklaus, both 80 years old and key people in Rooney’s life have helped transform Grand Haven Golf Club into this new course, which is designed from entrance to exit to call attention to the sacrifices of the American military and inspire support. Nicklaus waived his $3 million design fee to work on the project. Rooney terms it the “church,” suggesting something deeply personal and which he aspires to conjure reverence.
“When you put the right team together of people who are committed to a common goal, it’s just awesome,” Rooney said.
That could be said of this rebirthing project or the course’s old identity, which ultimately kickstarted a mission that has transformed thousands of lives, starting with Rooney’s.
“In my heart of hearts,” Rooney ends with, “we’re just getting started.”