Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Message

Happy Father's Day to everyone out there. I love Father's Day. My dad has always been terrific. I couldn't have asked for better growing up. Whether it was camping trips, homework or putting up with my bullshit, he's always done it and usually with a smile. I'm lucky.

I know not everyone is as fortunate, of course, and that's a real shame. I partially understand. I've been away from my dad for 7 years now, courtesy of the Air Force. You'd think it gets easier with each passing year but it doesn't. As a matter of fact, it gets harder.

Today is particularly difficult for what seems to be a multitude of reasons. It's another year away from the family. Linda happens to be in NJ visiting them for 2 weeks and I feel like I'm missing out on all of it. What may be the biggest reason of all is that it's June 20th. A day of little significance for most people. June 20th was my Uncle Tommy's birthday. Another wound that never seems to fully close. I hate June 20th EVERY year but the fact that it coincides with Father's Day this year makes it worse. I'm already feeling melancholy and then I've added the impact of the loss to my mood as well.

It's not all about me though. It's hard for everyone in the family, not the least of which are his children. I simply don't think I can imagine, for one moment, what it's like to lose a parent. We all go through it eventually, but always hope that the parent lived a full and prosperous life and at the very least, is not ripped away from us unexpectedly.

My father said something profound about life and loss. I don't have the verbiage so I'll just explain it. Our life is like a tile mosaic. Each person, memory and instance is a tile. As we lose people, the tiles are taken away leaving holes. When someone is taken suddenly and unexpectedly, the tile is torn from its place leaving a hole that is jagged and unclean. It's harder to look at that rough spot.

That is what my family lives with every day. Some days it's easier than others. Some days it's especially hard. Today is one of the latter. I miss my father and my Uncle Tommy both, but each in their own very unique way. I love them both deeply as well. I'd give anything to be standing around the barbecue with both of them again. To laugh when Uncle Tommy blows up the front lawn with fireworks and scares the shit out of all of us who somehow didn't notice that the six-foot-one firefighter went missing. I remember in the days before cell phones, it was nearly a contest who could get who in the pool more often with a beeper on his belt (and count the beepers that had been sacrificed to the pool throughout the summer). To watch my dad, an only child, revel that the "in-law" part of the title "brother-in-law" never seemed to fit. And when the third Musketeer, my Uncle Charles (Uncle Tommy's brother) was in the mix is was just mayhem, but always hilarious. Just to see the broad shouldered man with a broader smile walk in through the door as he had every holiday of my life. Or to hear my Dad look up from the morning paper, over his reading glassess and say "Good morning, boy" when I announce my entrance with a "Hi pop." Watching my parent tease each other mercilessly and still laugh hysterically after 39 years of marriage.

Some of those I'll get again. Others are to remain memories. The former is what keeps the latter from truly breaking my heart.

For those of you who are fathers or are around yours, enjoy them not just today, but every day.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Finding peace and moving on - and moving home

I've been talking, quite a bit lately, about becoming a civilian again. This may sound contrary to what all of you think you know about the relationship I have with my uniform. I still have three years on this enlistment but I figured I would take a minute to explain.

Some of you may know how my military status came to be. It was a function of several things. Bad economy, financial needs, a renewed sense of patriotism, and one really big chip on my shoulder. I came in, I trained, I worked, I deployed and now I teach. I'm one of a select few that volunteered for this instructor position. I knew I'd love it and I was right. Biloxi, Mississippi would not be my first choice of locations to live but the job is worth it and the area is actually pretty nice (especially given other locations I've been to - like Sierra Vista, AZ).

I took this job for 2 major reasons - 1) It is a great career stepping stone in case I decided to stay in and 2) for me it's the best job in the Air Force to have as your last assignment. I was split down the middle about my Air Force future when I re-enlisted and took this job.

When I came through technical training and early on at my first base, I didn't have great guidance. I have seen the "kids" come through the training pipeline and into the operational Air Force for years and it appeared they were not getting the guidance they needed as well. I have had many experiences over the years and I have an inherent need to understand as much of the world around my as possible. I've absorbed so much and wanted to share it with the next generation of Airmen. I can't possibly fix all the problems and I wouldn't dare try. My presence here is not going to make the Air Force replete with stellar Airmen. You can't change the whole Air Force but you can work on your little corner of it. So that's what I'm trying to do. It makes me happy to affect the lives of these young troops and set them right on their course whether it lasts 4 years or 20 or anywhere in between. I teach. I don't instruct. We're called instructors by the Air Force. I teach. I teach them about the assignment system, the promotion system, finance, deployments, overseas cultures AND I teach the curriculum for understanding, not just to pass the test. I'm a teacher.

But... in 3 years, I'm going home. I love the Air Force, I love the job, I love the adventure, I love the mission. I just love my family more. I've been gone 10 years (at the end of this tour) and enough is enough. Less than 1% of the American population ever dons the uniform. I did for my country; now it's time to do for my family.

I'm not here for the money, I'm not here for the experience. I'm here for the job and what it means. I did what I set out to do. I've repaid  this wonderful country for all it has given me. I've played my part in the war on terrorism. I've stuck my neck out and after a few bumps and bruises (mostly emotional), I'm no worse for the wear.

I spent many years working in corporate technology in New York City. I endured corporate America and 9/11. I have a lot to give back in terms of knowledge and experiences (both of a professional and personal nature).

I said this is the best last assignment in the Air Force. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. For me it is, and it will be my last (barring entry into World War III, I suppose). You work and train new people. You move on to other places and leave people in your shoes. We learn that we should always be training our replacements. I don't know if that is idealist so we can share information and have a knowledgeable work force or if it's just so we can get promoted. The latter sounds very Peter Principle-esque so we'll stick with the first. There's honor in it.

I can tell you why I do it. Not so I can move up, but so I can move out. I teach 12 students at a time for a period of up to 2 months, but generally only a couple of weeks. I spend my time pouring into those spongy little excited brains all of my knowledge, experiences, stories, tips, tricks, hints and thoughts that have made me a success thus far. I can stand outside my building on the last day of this enlistment, look at the front door and say:

"You know all I know. It's your time now. It's your Air Force. You're the next generation. Run it well. Make me proud. I'm going home to my family."