America's CU Conference Preview

The Courage to Act

Iraq war veteran and philanthropist calls on people to seize the moments that could change their lives.

May 1, 2012

Major Dan Rooney, a decorated military aviator and philanthropist, wants people to be ready for the right moment.

Taking action when these moments come along is one of Rooney’s key messages to audiences as he travels the nation as a speaker discussing personal accountability and teamwork.

He served three tours of combat in Iraq, runs marathons, and started a national charity to benefit military families. He’s also the owner of a golf course, a residential developer, a PGA professional, and the author of “A Patriot’s Calling: Living Between Fear and Faith.”

Rooney—who will deliver a keynote speech at CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference, June 17-20 in San Diego—recently told Credit Union Magazine about the moment that led him to start his charity and what motivates him to do big things in life.

CU Mag:I am curious about what teamwork means to you, and if that changed after your combat tours in Iraq.

Rooney: The military is unlike any team I have ever been a part of. Our core values describe why it works—service before self, excellence in all you do, and integrity first. We all trust that one another will uphold this contract.

CU Mag: Is it difficult to distill the lessons you learned from your military experiences to more “normal” everyday situations?

Rooney: The same principles apply. To have a team that works you have to trust and respect one another.

Open communication is a critical attribute of all successful teams. But ultimately you have to be willing to put the needs of the team before your own.

CU Mag: Tell me about Folds of Honor. Why is that the cause to which you dedicate so much of your time?

Rooney: On the way home from my second tour in Iraq, I witnessed an event that profoundly changed the course of my life.

As the plane landed, the pilot announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an American hero on board: Cpl. Brock Bucklin. And his twin brother, Cpl. Brad Bucklin, is accompanying him home from Iraq. As a sign of respect, please remain seated while Cpl. Bucklin’s family receives him in his final homecoming.”

I watched through the window of the plane as the family waited for the flag-draped casket to be lowered; amongst the family was Brock’s four-year-old son. This tragic homecoming inspired me to create the Folds of Honor Foundation to ensure that no family is left behind in the field of battle.

The Folds of Honor provides educational scholarships to children and spouses of military veterans who have either been disabled or killed in action. Currently, there are more than one million dependents of our wounded or killed in action military heroes from the recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—and 87% of those children and spouses do not qualify for federal educational assistance.

Folds of Honor is bridging that gap. To date, we have awarded more than 2,600 scholarships to recipients in all 50 states and plan to award another 1,000 in 2012.

CU Mag:You have taken on a lot of big things in your life, whether it was going to war, running marathons, or starting a charity. Where does your drive to do these big things come from? What’s your advice to other people about finding the drive and confidence to take on big things in their lives?

Rooney: I have always wanted to positively impact those around me, and in turn, create a difference on this earth. First and foremost, my drive comes from God. But my beautiful wife, Jacqy, and four amazing daughters also keep me motivated on a daily basis.

My advice to others is to find something you are deeply passionate about and follow your dreams. If you commit to something that you wholeheartedly believe in and put the right people around you, big things will fall into place.

Hebrews 12:1 states: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

CU Mag: What do you hope people will take away from your speech at the America’s Credit Union Conference?

Rooney: Synchronicity—or as I call it, “Chance with a purpose”—is all around us. People and experiences are placed in our lives, guiding us on our destined path.

The great challenge is recognizing the moments of synchronicity and having the courage to take action. I hope they have a greater respect of our freedoms and take action to chase their dreams.

For his work with the Folds of Honor Foundation, Rooney has received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award and the Air National Guard’s Distinguished Service Medal. He and his wife, Jacqy, live in Broken Arrow, Okla., with their four daughters. He'll address the America's Credit Union Conference in June.

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