Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, USAF fighter pilot, enraptured the keynote audience for the Conference of...

Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, USAF fighter pilot, enraptured the keynote audience for the Conference of Automotive Remarketing on March 29 with his anecdotes of flying as a Top Gun pilot and how the forces arrayed against you can shape deeper meaning and purposes in life.

Photo: Ross Stewart / Stewart Digital Media

Lt. Col. Dan Rooney upended a basic American concept during his keynote address March 29 at the Conference of Automotive Remarketing.

Forget about pursuing happiness and success as we are told. It can only ensue from the purposes you live out and the choices you make, said the veteran U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and CEO of Folds of Honor in a presentation, “Fly Into the Wind: How to Harness Faith and Fearlessness on Your Ascent to Greatness.”

Marriage Tip: Rooney also peppered his talk with tidbits of advice, such as, give your spouse one compliment per day to keep a marriage strong. He has been married for 30 years.

Preparing for the Mission

Everyone enters the world trailing the clouds of glory of others, but you arrive by yourself and leave by yourself, Rooney told the audience of consignors and remarketers. The point is “you are built for a mission and life’s work is figuring out that mission, encouraging yourself on the walk through it, and then going to live it.” That requires passion, aptitude, and impact, he added.

Rooney’s career has spanned all types of full forces and impacts. For him, it meant chasing a “crazy dream” at age 12 of being a golf pro and a fighter pilot, his two vocational passions.

Rooney, 50, who recalled how the Viper character in “Top Gun 1” inspired his career path, has lead fighter pilot training at Eglin Air Force Base, near Ft. Walton Beach and Destin, Florida, to prepare pilots to fight in the tradition of “iron sharpening iron” from Proverbs 27. He's now based at Headquarters Air Force Recruiting Service Detachment 1, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, where he serves as a U.S, Air Force ambassador inspiring the next generation of fighter pilots and service members.

Rooney follows the fighter pilot’s code of living that empowers his life: CAVU (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited). CAVU balances synchronicity with chance that has a purpose.

He credits it with life expanding power that enables you to live life at the highest level.

As an F-16 Viper pilot, Rooney experiences flights at 1,700 mph, which has many times more power than an entire Formula 1 auto race. At that speed, you can get from Las Vegas to San Diego in six minutes.

“We will go through storms,” he said. “Everyone is struggling and that will continue. CAVU will give you something to hold on to. Don’t let the weather vector you off your desired destination.”

A decorated F-16 Fighter Pilot serving three combat tours in Iraq, Rooney is best known for...

A decorated F-16 Fighter Pilot serving three combat tours in Iraq, Rooney is best known for founding the Folds of Honor, a leading non-profit organization that provides educational scholorships for children and spouses of fallen or disabled military service members and first responders. Since its inception in 2007, the foundation has provided nearly 44,000 life-changing scholarships totaling about $200 million. 

Photo: Ross Stewart / Stewart Digital Media

Planning Tip: “When you figure it out, you will never plan it out. You can waste yourself planning or you can go.”

Depend on the Deepest Resources

Rooney made clear that he bases his entire approach in his Christian faith, which centers and grounds all he does. He said he has read in his Bible daily for 22 years. “I never start that fighter pilot ritual without the Big Man as your wingman.”

Whether you look to the Holy Spirit, Karma, the Force, the Universe, etc., “when you tap into it, it will give you vectors into your life and affirm your path,” Rooney said.

“There is no coincidence, blind luck, or serendipity. Every experience and problem are placed in our path in a providential way.

“God picks the least among us and the less willing. Our lives are defined by what we do when things don’t go our way.”

Time Tip: “Today is a gift. Be careful not trying to get to the end of the day and just get to the weekend.”

Flying with Choices

Accountability and opportunity come through our choices and choices alone, Rooney said.

“We all hit challenges bigger than ourselves, and don’t’ know how to face them,” said Rooney, who served three tours of duty as a pilot during the Iraq War. Rooney shared what he calls the “Volition Matrix,” which can help you succeed: “I won’t. I can’t. I’d like to. I’ll try. I can. I WILL.”

Rooney emphasized that courage and comfort can never coexist on this walk. “We live in a world that is trying to make you comfortable. You must fight every single moment. Being courageous is how we grow.

“Every one of us needs a dark visor in our lives, a powerful weapon that makes sure you don’t become a prisoner of common assumption,” Rooney said. “The world tries to do that every day. Don’t let fear of failure bind your potential in your life. You must be a cheerleader. Do not every be your own adversary.”

Career Tip: As a father of five daughters, Rooney said he often deals with the question of what they should do with their lives: “Something you are passionate about, good at and has an impact. Live every day true to that trinity.”

Discipline Defeats Drag

Rooney shared a formula to reduce “parasitic drag,” which slows the speed of a jet, as do those behaviors and practices that slow you down: Enthusiasm — Routine — Habit — Discipline — Motivation — Fulfillment.

“If don’t know what to do every day, the day gets blown away and wasted. You can’t rely on emotion. You must build an architecture to get you through life.”

You have a 42% more chance of reducing parasitic drag if you write it down what holds you back and replace it with something better.  

“Remove and replace on this journey in small, incremental steps every day that add up,” he said. “There’s no one big transformational change on a daily basis.”

For Rooney, that meant being patient when starting Folds of Honor, which he launched in his garage and took three years to secure a major donation. Now, Anheuser-Busch has donated $26 million to Folds during the last seven years as its biggest sponsor. The non-profit has awarded 44,000 scholarships to families of military veterans, with 91 cents of every $1 raised going to the scholarships.

“You stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready. There will always be voices against you, saying you are not good enough, or smart enough, and why even try?”

Rooney is a two-time recipient of the Top Gun award and has received the Air Force Commendation...

Rooney is a two-time recipient of the Top Gun award and has received the Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Medal, Anti-terrorism Medal, Combat Readiness Medal, and Air Expeditionary Medal.

Photo: Ross Stewart / Stewart Digital Media

Breathing Tip: For optimal breathing to relax, take 5.5 seconds in, and 5.5 seconds out. At that rate, you can turn off pre-front cortex pressure in the brain for two minutes.

Giving Back — To Yourself

Devote five seconds to people around you by exchanging hellos or acknowledging their presence, no matter who, Rooney advised. As part of a “Divine Echo,” put yourself out there and God will give it back.”

“I don't care if it's the guy I saw in the gym when I grabbed my towel this morning. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Brother, how are you this morning?’ It takes five seconds. We are all humans. Give five seconds to the Uber driver, to your wait staff. These people that are serving your family and friends, so look them in the eye and watch that connect.

“I believe each one of us can manifest this in our life however we want. But first we must put it out in the world. If you want love, you have to love. If you want compassion, you’ve got to put it out there. If you want positive energy, you have to spread it. And God will bring it back to you.”


Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Martin Romjue

Martin Romjue

Managing Editor of Fleet Group, Charged Fleet Editor, Vehicle Remarketing Editor

Martin Romjue is the managing editor of the Fleet Trucking & Transportation Group, where he is also editor of Charged Fleet and Vehicle Remarketing digital brands. He previously worked as lead editor of Bobit-owned Luxury, Coach & Transportation (LCT) Magazine and from 2008-2020.

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