Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A memory that lives on in others

I had a moment today that I wanted to share. It was a moment that is so contrary to who I am, yet fit so perfectly at the same time. As a bearded, software guy in NYC, 4 years removed from camouflage I start to forget more and more about the military. I forget details about the things I did, base names, years things happened, hierarchy and more. I forget the details of the tenets of being Staff Sergeant Viglione, a non-commissioned officer in the United States Air Force, something that shaped my entire being and was the core of how I made every decision for so many years. It's a memory like college or high school or any other bygone era of my life.

When I was still active duty, I lived and breathed Air Force life and culture. I was very "blue," as is said to someone who tries to embody the Air Force's core values. In my final assignment, I took the position of Technical Training Instructor. I went back to the Air Force training program I graduated from so many years prior to teach it to young enlistees looking to learn their AF trade upon successful completion of Basic Military Training.

For 4 years I instructed scores of students week in and week out. I instructed them on foundational and complex technical concepts like network security, network management, IP addressing, routing, switching, and multiplexing. That was my job. I never liked the title.

Beyond the instruction, I taught my students. I taught them how to be an Airman in the US Air Force. I taught them about the promotion system and assignment system. I taught them how to live the core values. I taught them how to get the most out of their Air Force experience. I was 30 years old when I took that assignment - an assignment I asked for by choice and was recommended to by my AF mentor, a Chief Master Sergeant from whom I learned almost all I knew about leading people and doing right by the Air Force. Most of these students were in their early 20s or younger.

They asked me about life and I taught them that as well. How to buy cars. Should I get a college degree? How do I deal with being far from family? I even got asked by a student if he should get married.

See... I knew I wasn't staying in the Air Force by that point. I knew I loved service but also needed to be home with my family. So I poured all of me into these students so I could replicate my knowledge and the best parts of me in the future of Air Force communicators (I never let them see the bad parts of me).

And so I came home as an entrepreneur and now in my role at Olapic. The Air Force is something I just used to do. SSgt Viglione is anecdotal, at best. Some students are Facebook friends. SSgt Viglione gave way to Vig. Vig gave way to Jason.

I tell you all that to tell you this story.

This morning I was at my desk fighting my email inbox as per usual. Someone handed me mail. Mail? For me? At work? Unusual. Shaped like a greeting card? This must be a prank. I'm going to open this and magically 6 pounds of glitter will erupt and ruin my day. Surely.  Return address of Minnesota... in this context doesn't ring a bell.

I opened it to find this


On the left hand side was a handwritten, personal message. An old student of mine was reflecting on things as her Air Force enlistment anniversary approaches. She wanted to reach out to me via Facebook. It was during a Facebook hiatus I had taken to avoid the angry political discourse. Rather than surrendering, she looked up my work address and mailed the card to my office. 

She thanked me for being her instructor and, after that, being her friend. While she's thanking me in her message, as I'm reading it I'm mentally thanking her. Thanking her for taking the time and being resourceful to send it. For validating all the time and energy I gave to my students. 

And for reminding me that SSgt Viglione isn't a person that is no longer. SSgt Viglione is a mindest, a persona, an approach to decision making - and he lives on long after I hung up my uniform the last time. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Life is what happens

"Beautiful Boy" has long been a favorite John Lennon song. This morning I played it for my beautiful boy. Every line of the song rings true when I look at my perfect little peanut. I happened to play it for him because I called him beautiful boy and it made me think of it. Besides, he needs to be well acquainted with Mr. Lennon by now - he's almost 5 months.

"Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"

Then that line happened and I found myself at the intersection of multiple emotions. On one hand, I'm watching my boy smile at me and play with his tiny feet. On the other hand, today I'm reminded of the last part of that in a specific and unique way. Life surely does happen while you're busy making other plans. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, as they say. I never planned so many of the events that led me to where I am today. And where I am today is a good place.

We have Mr. Nick on one hand, and the unending grief of today's date on the other. To make it more complex, the T in NickyT is for Thomas. The middle namesake I share with my son is for my uncle and godfather Thomas Sabella. To the world he's remembered as one of the brave 343 who laid down their lives 15 Septembers ago. To us, he'll always just be Uncle Tommy. A man with broad shoulders and a broader smile; a smile present in the great-nephew he never knew.

For 15 long years, I've run the gamut of emotions on the anniversaries. I've had varying reactions. I've tried various things to deal with it all. I've cried. I've drank. I've sat quietly in the dark. I've gone to memorial events. Right now, I'm writing this to all of you and watching Mickey Mouse with my boy.

I have lots of plans for the future, but as the former Beatle reminded me today, life happens the way it happens, often contrary to and in spite of those plans. What I do have is today. So I'll spend it watching cartoons and playing with my Nicky boy. I'll worry about tomorrow tomorrow.