Focus and Resolve: the story of the message to Garcia


On the eighth anniversary of my father’s passing, I am reminded of a story. A story of focus and resolve that I learned in my childhood from him and that left a deep impression on me. 

At the end of the 19th century, Cuba was struggling to be free from Spanish rule. There was rioting in the streets of Havana between the nationalist rebels and Spanish soldiers. The United States had a strong interest in Cuba and dispatched the USS Maine to Havana. In February 1898, an explosion rocked the Havana harbor sinking the US battleship. President McKinley sent an ultimatum to Spain to leave Cuba. Soon the United States was at war with Spain.

Just before declaring war, President McKinley met with Colonel Arthur Wagner, the head of the U.S. Bureau of Military Intelligence. The President wanted to ally with the leader of the rebels, General Calixto Garcia. Garcia was somewhere in the mountains of Cuba leading the rebel troops in their fight for independence. He was a hunted man by the Spanish army. Little was known about him or his exact whereabouts. It was a difficult mission to find him.

President McKinley wanted to find someone to carry his message to Garcia.

Col. Wagner had an answer for the President. He knew a young officer, Andrew Summers Rowan. He said, “If anybody can get a message to Garcia, Rowan can.” Col. Wagner called in Lieutenant Rowan and asked him to get that message to Garcia.

Without asking one question, as indeed the answers were unknown, Rowan left to find Garcia. He did not ask, “Where is he? What does he look like? Who are his contacts? How do I get there? Do I do this alone? Who do I need to check with?” He simply accepted the goal and moved on to get it done.

Rowan traveled to Cuba and met García in the Oriente Mountains. He obtained Garcia’s commitment to ally with the U.S..

In short, Rowan delivered the message to Garcia.

This story about Rowan, a resourceful, daring and confident officer, who took on a goal, created his plans and executed them successfully is applicable in many areas of our work and lives. Do we have the preparation, the resourcefulness and the confidence to deliver that message to Garcia? Do we have the daring to take on missions, large and small, that have not been undertaken before, to take the path less traveled by, to advance beyond our comfort zones? How do we develop what it takes to be ready and able to deliver that message to Garcia?

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